Sony Alpha a7 II Review
Conclusion - Pros
- IS is useful during still and video capture
- Excellent Raw dynamic range
- Good metering and white balance
- Excellent resolution
- Large, high-res viewfinder
- Camera is comfortable to hold
- Solid build quality
- On-sensor PDAF
- Plenty of Customizable buttons
- Built in mic and headphone jack
- Ability to record video in XAVC-S
- More FE lenses arriving
- Tilting LCD
- Vastly improved start-up time over a7
Conclusion - Cons
- Noisy high ISO images compared to full-frame competitors
- Raw compression issues
- Heavy for a mirrorless camera
- Control dials are small, and too recessed
- Subject tracking in continuous AF can be unreliable
- No programmable auto ISO
- No quick way to magnify AF point to 100% to check focus in Image Review/Playback
- There is no silent shooting mode and the shutter is quite loud, especially for a mirrorless camera
- Over-sensitive eye sensor
- No touchscreen
The guts of the Sony Alpha 7 II are quite similar to the original Sony Alpha 7. They use the same sensor and processor. They both have bright, high-res viewfinders and nearly identical button layouts. Comparing pros and cons for both cameras, you will see a lot of crossover. This is because many of the features that made the original a7 a great camera, also made their way into the a7 II. Unfortunately so did a few of a7's downfalls, like an over-sensitive eye-sensor, a loud shutter and noisy high ISO images.
|Shot hand-held at ISO 400, 1/3 sec at f/5.6. Photo: Barnaby Britton|
The 5-axis sensor-based image stabilization system, the hallmark of the a7 II and the main differentiating factor between it and the original a7, works well. It provides an average of 2.6-stops of image stabilization, according to our testing, during still capture. We tested the a7 II at 24, 55 and 200mm, and found across the board, users can expect between 2 and 3.3 stops of hand-hold-ability, depending on their focal length. The IS also works during video capture, allowing for better-looking hand-held shooting. But keep in mind, the trade-off of having a stabilized full-frame sensor is a heavier, larger mirrorless camera body (compared to the a7). For some folks, the added heft won't matter, the extra stops of hand-hold-ability are totally worth it. For others, the weight might be a deal breaker.
Sony, as a camera manufacturer, is no stranger to being first. The a7 II is the first and only mirrorless camera on the market that offers a stabilized full frame sensor (the Sony a99, a translucent mirror camera with a full frame sensor, is also image stabilized). Much of this review analyzes the pros and cons of taking the components of the original a7, and sticking them in a larger/heavier camera body, with sensor-based stabilization.
So really, it's all about balance. Is a good bit of extra size and weight worth it for an equally good bit of extra image stabilization? The answer can really only be taken on a case-by-case basis. For photographers and filmmakers using third-party glass with adapters, the a7 II may be a sensible purchase; its price-tag isn't that much more than that of the original a7 when it first came to market. And the IBIS will allow those users to get the most out of their legacy lenses. For owners of the original a7 considering upgrading, the decision is less clear, but most signs point to holding out for the next iteration of the a7; one that may have a newer sensor, processor, and perhaps even better IBIS.
For photographers simply looking to enter a full frame system, the choice becomes even more complicated. Traditionally, mirrorless cameras appeal to users seeking a smaller, lighter option to DSLRs. The a7 II is not particularly small or light, though to be fair, it is smaller and lighter than any full-frame DSLR on the market. It's also not a particularly quiet camera, something street photographers should definitely take into consideration. Also, as a system, the FE mount family of lenses is ever-growing. But they are pricey, pricier than a lot of comparable glass for Canon and Nikon full-frame cameras.
|The a7 II performs admirably in good light, with bright pleasing colors and plenty of detail. Processed using Adobe Lightroom 5.7.1. Shot at ISO 100, 1/500 sec at f/5.6.|
Image quality is essentially the same as that of the Sony a7; both have nearly identical guts, IBIS aside. The 24.3MP sensor found in both is remarkably versatile, even if it's not the newest sensor around. And while it's not the same sensor as the one found in the D750, they do have very similar specs, masked pixels for on-sensor PDAF aside.
So should you expect similar image quality to what we've seen from the D750? Definitely not. For starters, they use comparable, yet different sensors and the D750's is likely newer. Also, its important to remember that camera companies process their Raw data in very different ways. In general, Sony Raw files are less versatile than Nikon ones. The reason being that the a7 II and Sony cameras do not provide lossless 14-bit Raw data like Nikon, Canon and most other manufacturers do. Sony instead uses lossy compression, and an odd implementation at that, resulting in all around-less malleable files than the competition. You can read more about Sony's Raw compression here. It's important to note that there is no way around this compression.
We also found the a7 II to have 1-2 stops worse ISO performance than an a7S or D750, shown in our studio scene & confirmed by DXO. This poor ISO performance was more forgivable in the original a7 lineup, perhaps, but not 4 cameras in. Especially given all the competition- the 6D, D750, a7R, and a7S all outperform it by a good margin.
Sony claims AF in the a7 II is 30% better than the original a7. It's difficult to quantify something like AF performance, considering the infinite number of shooting scenarios, but after some heavy field time, it certainly does seem like the a7 II acquires focus faster, and more consistently then the original a7.
Unlike the a7S and a7R, which both use contrast-only AF systems, the a7 and a7 II both use on-sensor phase detect AF (PDAF) coupled with contrast detect AF. So right off the bat, both cameras are going to offer a huge leg up over the 'R' and 'S' when it comes to focus (save for the fact that the a7S will focus in lower light). The difference is especially noticeable when shooting in Continuous AF mode, where the camera has to determine the distance to a subject continuously. Both the a7S and A7R will hunt back and forth in such scenarios. The a7 II does not - as long as your subject remains within the central portion of the frame.
Which brings us to an important point: the a7 II only offers PDAF, and therefore robust depth-tracking, over a limited, rather centrally-located, portion of the frame. Cameras like the Samsung NX1 and Sony's own a6000 offer phase-detection AF over almost the entire frame, ensuring that no matter where your subject ends up, focus should be quick.
We were also quite impressed with the a7 II's ability to accurately lock on and track faces. It does so with a much higher success rate than traditional lock-on subject tracking (more on that below). The a7 II does still needs some work in terms of initial AF acquisition speed though, where it still occasionally hunts, not as much as the a7 mind you, but more than other cameras in its class.
Sony claims subject tracking or 'lock-on AF' is 1.5x better on the a7 II over the original a7. We found lock-on AF to be really hit or miss, though more 'hit' than the original a7. When it works, it works well. When it doesn't, it fails completely. Our feeling is that the green box highlighting what the camera thinks is the subject you wish to track is a bit over-engineered: it tries to be intelligent in picking something near your selected AF area to focus on, but often picks the wrong subject, or wanders off even after initially picking the correct subject. It's just not as reliable as class-leading implementations, such as Nikon's 3D tracking, which does an uncanny job of sticking to whatever was initially underneath the selected AF point. That said, the a7 II does have the potential to track subjects better than systems using only depth information to track.
Simply put: it works, sometimes, just not reliably enough to always count on.
|Subject tracking results may vary.|
The a7 II is heavy, yet comfortable to hold. The shutter button has been moved to a more accessible spot, but the command dials have been made significantly less accessible. Custom buttons are plentiful, though not always that easy to reach on the fly, the 'C1' and 'C2' buttons specifically are quite inaccessible.
The a7 II is one of those cameras you'd be better off holding in your hand before buying. Our staff was fairly split down the middle between those who thought its design was better than the original a7's and those who thought it was worse.
The bigger-sized grip was one thing we all did agree upon, though. It counteracts the added weight of the camera nicely. It's also just plain comfortable to hold in, even in one hand. That is, until you try and change the incredibly-tiny, recessed front and rear command dials.
The Final Word
The Sony a7 II, as stand-alone product, is very impressive. It offers a good 24MP sensor, in a smaller-than-a-DSLR package, with robust image stabilization, an articulating screen, a very high-res EVF/ LCD, plus a host of incredibly useful video features. Custom buttons and dials are also plentiful, AF accuracy is good, and it can even subject track with a reasonable degree of success.
Unfortunately Raw compression issues and noisy high ISO images hold back the a7 II's overall appeal, as do wimpy controls dials. That being said, the a7 II is a positive step forward for the Sony Alpha line of full frame cameras. Its downfalls, taken individually, shouldn't scare anyone away. Compounded, they paint a picture of a camera that is very good, just not great; forward-thinking, but not completely realized. Sony is a stone's throw away from having a mirrorless full-framer that can compete with big boys' DSLRs; the a7 II is oh-so-close to being that camera, it just comes up a bit short.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
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Sony Alpha 7 II
Category: Mid Range Full Frame Camera
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The Alpha 7 II continues to push Sony's full frame mirrorless line of cameras into ground-breaking territory. It is the only full frame mirrorless camera to offer in-body image stabilization systems and its performance is excellent. The body is comfortable to shoot with and offers a broad set of features that should appeal to both still and video shooters. Unfortunately the a7 II's high ISO image quality is not as good as other full framers. Raw files are also less malleable than the competition and JPEGs tend to suffer from aggressive noise reduction.
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