Sony Alpha 7R II Review
Controls and Handling
In terms of controls, the a7R II has evolved slightly, compared to the previous version and gains the revised grip and dials that appeared with the a7 II. This is a mixed blessing: everyone in the office prefers the new grip, but it's still not enough to get a full grip around with all your fingers (your pinky and ring finger may run off the bottom). A vertical grip goes a long way to solving this without adding much weight (and gives you double battery life to boot). Yes, things get heavier with bulky lenses, but it's specifically with heavier lenses that we appreciate any and all weight savings when it comes to the body. Furthermore, new Zeiss FE lenses come in at quite modest weights. A Sony a7R II with vertical grip, two batteries, and Zeiss Batis will give you a very hand-holdable, robust, yet lightweight feel.
The repositioned and slightly cowled dials are a different story, and split opinion considerably, with some shooters finding them harder to access. The rear thumb dial, in particular, is too recessed, making it hard to turn in that your thumb will often brush past it rather than turning it. And when you do turn it, the 'clicks' and detents are so subtle that you often won't know exactly how many clicks you've turned the dial, which means it's not easy to dial in a specific exposure change without verifying the change in the display. It's much the opposite with many other cameras: if you want to increase shutter speed a stop, you simply turn a dial exactly 3 clicks, receiving proper haptic feedback to know you've turned the dial 3 steps. We struggle to quickly change exposure with this level of precision using the dials on the a7-series cameras.
In fact, almost all the dials and buttons on the a7R II are more or less mushy, particularly the AF/MF toggle, as well as the back dial and its 4-way buttons. You think you've pressed it, when either you haven't or the camera simply didn't register your press. Or perhaps you think you pressed the DISP (up) button on the 4-way dial, but you actually turned the (ISO) dial upwards as you went to press 'up', and changed your ISO from Auto to 50 and your screen goes dark. This can make for a frustrating experience, especially for landscape photographers wearing even light gloves. Dials, and to an extent buttons, simply need to be done a la Nikon D810-style, or perhaps O-MD E-M5/10 II style.
|The Sony a7R II has plenty of customizable buttons, including C1, C2 and C3 on top of the camera. And on the back of the camera: C4, Left, Right, Down, AEL, AF/MF, and the center click wheel button.|
The a7R II offers 10 customizable buttons, assignable to a large set of useful functions. For a body this small, the number of customizable buttons (and dials) is formidable; however, if you're a seasoned shooter or pro, you may find yourself still needing quick access to more options, and you'll be left assigning them to the Fn menu (see below) which is slower to operate. Hence, we wouldn't mind seeing even more customizable buttons on the a7-series cameras, and there's space for a full-fledged dial on the top left shelf of the body. Furthermore, given that the functions we like to access for stills shooting are very different to those we tend to use during video shooting, it behooves the camera to offer discrete button customization for stills vs. video. Perhaps a switch between two custom setups, a la Olympus.
And though Sony has recently become quite good at making most options assignable, some things like movie and crop options, amongst others, remain unassignable to the Fn menu. Below we list out all of the possible assignable options for the buttons, as well as the control wheel on the back of the camera.
|Back control wheel||
C1, C2, C3, C4
Left, Right, Down*
Focus Hold button
• Standard (center button only)
|• [Spot] AEL hold*
• [Spot] AEL toggle
• FEL Lock hold*
• FEL Lock toggle
• FEL Lock/AEL hold*
• FEL Lock/AEL tggle.
• AF/MF Control Hold*
• AF/MF Ctrl Toggle
• Center Lock-on AF
• Eye AF*
• AF On*
• Focus Hold*
• Aperture Preview*
• Shot. Result Preview*
• Bright Monitoring
• Focus Magnifier
• Deactivate Monitor
• Grid Line
• [Movie] Marker Disp. Sel.
• Audio Level Display
• Peaking Level
• Peaking Color
• [Stills] Silent Shooting
• Finder/Monitor Sel.
• Send to Smartphone
• Download Appli.
• Application List
• Monitor Brightness
• TC/UB Disp. Switch
• Not Set
*'Hold' functions, and all other functions that require the button to be held down, cannot be assigned to the left, right or down buttons of the four-way controller.
Menus and Fn menu
Sony's full menu system, accessed by pressing the 'Menu' button on the back of the camera, is frankly a disorganized mess. For example, 22 AF options are split across 11 different submenu pages under 2 different main menu headers. The lack of organization is inexplicable, but what makes it even worse is the lack of a customizable 'My Menu', which would at least have allowed user to collate all frequently used menu options under customizable tabs. It's silly that I have to go to the second line of the fifth page of the sixth tab simply to format my memory card, something you might (and should) often do.
Thankfully, pressing the Fn button brings up the 'Function' or 'Fn' menu on the main display which is customizable, offering a nice, quick way to access most settings. The 4-way controller allows you to select a menu option, and turning the back (or front) dial scrolls through options within a setting. Only problem is: not all Menu items are assignable to this menu (e.g. movie or crop mode, monitor brightness, etc.), meaning that if these items aren't assignable to buttons, or if you simply don't wish to assign them to a button, you're still forced to access the disorienting full menu system. That would be fine if we could collate said items under a 'My Menu', but we can't. Below we list out the options assignable to the Fn menu.
|Assignable to the Fn menu:|
|• Drive Mode
• Selftime during Brkt
• Flash Mode
• Flash Comp.
• Focus Mode
• Focus Area
• Exposure Comp.
• ISO AUTO Min. SS
• Metering Mode
• White Balance
• DRO/Auto HDR
|• Creative Style
• Shoot Mode
• Picture Effect
• Picture Profile
• Center Lock-on AF
• Smile/Face Detect.
• [Stills] Soft Skin Effect
• [Stills] Auto Obj. Framing
• [Stills] Image Size
• [Stills] Aspect Ratio
• [Stills] Quality
|• SteadyShot Adjust.
• SteadyS. Focal Len.
• Audio Rec Level
• Grid Line
• [Movie] Marker Display
• Audio Level Display
• Peaking Level
• Peaking Color
• [Stills] Silent Shooting
• Not Set
Auto ISO functionality in the a7R II has been much improved over the original a7 cameras, and currently, along with Nikon and a select couple of Canon DSLRs, represents a 'best practice' Auto ISO implementation. Auto ISO is highly programmable, and in Manual mode, exposure compensation can be used to bias the algorithm. This means that in M mode, ISO can be solely thought of as a bias-able image brightening parameter.
When setting Auto ISO, users can pick a minimum (down to 100) and maximum ISO (up to 104,200) for the camera to work with (in 1 EV steps). You can also set a custom minimum shutter speed threshold: the lowest shutter speed the camera will tolerate before increasing ISO. We prefer to assign this function ('ISO AUTO Min. SS') to a dedicated button or Fn menu item for quick access. You can choose a shutter speed ranging from 30" to 1/8000 sec, in 1 stop increments. You can also have the camera automatically choose a minimum shutter speed based on the 1/focal length rule ('Standard'), with 'Slower', 'Slow', 'Fast', and 'Faster' biasing this speed by 1 stop in the appropriate directions.
Note that in 'Standard', the shutter speed never drops below 1/60s, even with wide lenses where 1/focal length rule would dictate slower speeds. Presumably, this is to ensure most subjects remain sharp. Because of this, the slowest speed the 'Slower' option will allow is 1/15s.
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