Having enjoyed the Sony RX1R II (Amazon) for 6 months now, I decided to add to my digital side by picking up the Sony A7R II (Amazon) and a Zeiss Batis 1.8/85. I had considered the new Sony A9 when it was announced a few weeks back, but think I will wait on the announcement of A9R (Amazon) to see what direction that goes. For now, the tried and true Sony A7R II is my path to go on, so I picked one up on Amazon with a couple 64 GB cards and a used Batis 85 from KEH.
Also, having used the RX1R II for the last 6 months, I'll give some compares and contrasts while going through this. As of this writing, I intend to keep both these cameras in my rotation. I really like having the RX1R II with the dedicated Zeiss 2/35 perfectly coupled to the sensor and I love the versatility of the Sony A7R II and my (future) ability to mount just about any lens I desire to the body - including my beloved line of Leica M-Mount glass. I can see these both used in tandem as well as on their own for specific applications like traveling light. You can see to the right the size difference in bodies (ignoring the lens sizes).
This is only a "First Impressions" review once again, as I have only had the body for less than two weeks as of the writing of this article. All images in this review (aside from of the camera itself) are either a straight convert from RAW to JPEG (zero edit) or added adjustment in Lightroom CC with the application of one of the Rebecca Lily Lightroom Pro Set IV presets as noted. For consistency, I stuck with just one preset throughout this review as it was not my intention to review her new presets at this time, rather, to show the IQ and potential of this camera. No other software, edits, or magic of any kind performed here.
You can see my previous review on the Sony RX1R II to compare the specs to this camera. What I enjoy about both here is the shared sensor stats - nice for consistent files. You can note the higher shutter speed of the A7R II as well as the increased dimensions and weight of 102 g - even without a lens. The rest of the main stats I list here are pretty similar to each other - here for the nerd stats.
- Mount: E-mount
- Dimensions: 4.69 w x 2.74 h x 1.50 d in
- Weight: 20.53 oz / 582 g (body only)
- Sensor: 35 mm full-frame (35.81 mm x 23.88 mm), Exmor R® CMOS sensor, aspect ratio 3:2
- Total Pixels: Approx. 43.6 MP (42.4 MP Effective)
- 2.95" (3.0-type) (4:3) / 1,228,800 dots / TFT drive
- Adjustable Angle: Up by approx. 107 degrees, Down by approx. 41 degrees
- XGA OLED, 0.5 in (1.3 cm) electronic viewfinder (color), 2,359,296 dots
- Field of Coverage: 100%
- Magnification: Approx. 0.78 x (with 50 mm lens at infinity, -1mstyle name="sup"-1/style)
- Light Meter: Multi-segment, Center-weighted, Spot - 1200-zone evaluative metering
- Exposure Compensation: +/- 5.0 EV (1/3 EV, 1/2 EV steps selectable) (with exposure compensation dial: +/- 3 EV [1/3 EV or 1/2 EV steps])
- ISO Range: ISO 100-25600 or ISO 50-102400 expanded
- Shutter: 30"-1/8000 s
- Flash Sync. Speed: 1/250 sec.
- Image Types: 14-bit Uncompressed RAW, Compressed RAW, JPEG (Extra Fine / Fine / Standard)
- Image Stabilization: Image Sensor-Shift mechanism with 5-axis compensation (4.5 steps based on CIPA standard. Pitch/yaw shake only)
- Cost: $2698 on Amazon (May 2017)
Sony A7R II - In the Hand
Walking around with this camera is very comfortable - though obviously not as stealthy as my RX1R II. The body is solid thoguh a little small and I find my pinky dangles in the air - so I use it to support the bottom of the body. Middle and ring fingers hold on to the small front grip (which is comfortable) and my index finger lives between the shutter release and shutter speed dial (explained a little more below). There is a slight bump-out on the rear where my thumb comfortably sits and provides quick access to the f-stop dial. It's a slightly different grip on the RX1R II which, though smaller, doesn't make it seem as small - maybe the lack of the bump-out grip in the front of the RX1R II.
I enjoy the placement of the buttons and dials on this camera. They are solid and smooth to operate - and the ones that need to click into position do so. At this time, with the camera always in manual (M) mode I have the front dial set to adjust shutter speed, the rear to adjust f-stop and a button on the rear to adjust ISO on the fly. A single click on the button brings up the ISO menu, then the thumb wheel allows me to quickly scroll to the rating I want.
The only other button programmed so far is C1 for eye detection. Obviously, only used in portraits but seems to nail it every time. I use this same setup on the RX1R II. I have been using the Exposure Comp wheel more and more to give me the exposure exactly how I want it rather than relying on post to correct that. Also been getting into relying almost solely on the histogram in the viewfinder to expose my work now.
The shutter release is smooth and pleasing (and I like the sound of it) and has the option of silent shutter, though I haven't tried that to date.
SONY A7R II - SENSOR
The A7R II has a 42.4-megapixel back-illuminated 35mm full-frame Exmor R CMOS sensor powered by the BIONZ X image processing engine to support 14-bit uncompressed RAW images. Technically, getting an ISO range of 50-102,400 but realistically using ISO 100-25,600. Even more realistically for my style is ISO 100-6400.
Unlike my RX1R II, there is no optical low-pass filter on this camera.
5-Axis Image Stabilization
The Sony A7R II has 5-Axis Image Stabilization which has been maximized for the 42 MP sensor. This system corrects camera shake while shooting along the 5 axes of angular shake (pitch & yaw), shift shake (along the x/y axis), and rotational shake (roll). Pair this with a IS lens (like the Zeiss Batis 85 I have been using) and you can freehand some ultra-lowlight photography.
Battery is notoriously bad on these cameras, but there are a ton of tips and tricks out there to increase life. Best thing I suggest is tossing the camera into Airplane mode - this turns off all the Wi-Fi and searching for networks. With this off, I can shoot all day with 3 batteries at the ready. To be honest, I shoot so little on a typical day (200-300 max photos) that I seldom need to jump to a backup.
Some other things you can try are reducing the brightness in the monitor and viewfinder, having a short power-save time, turn off the "Sunny Weather" option, turn off audio signals and turn off Pre-AF.
If I am walking around between shots, I tend to switch the camera off too. Not sure how much that helps, but a habit I picked up with the RX1R II.
I also suggest having a couple battery backups and a couple chargers in the house. Right now, I have 2 Sony stock batteries and 2 off-brand ones. I haven't noticed much of a difference between the two. For the house, I have a pair of chargers, as these batteries seem to take forever to get to a full charge. At least with a pair, I am able to cut the charge time in half.
FINDER / SCREEN
There are a couple ways to compose images with the A7R II. Either the screen on the back of the camera with LiveView or via the Electronic View Finder (EVF) that's really a godsend. The camera has the intelligence to automatically only power the view you are using. If LiveView, the EVF is powered off. If you put your eye to the EVF, it fires up in an instant and the back screen powers down. Very good for a camera that's a battery whore, as mentioned above.
With either of these views, you can increase or decrease the resolution, though they both look really good at standard. Very bright and quite responsive. Nearly identical to what I said about the RX1R II and not like the LiveView of the past (where my last experience was with a laggy Sony NEX-3). I keep the rear screen fairly dim, so I like to use the finder as my review of images when needed.
The eye cup for the A7R II finder is much better than the RX1R II, by the way. The former is a proper viewfinder with a rubberized eye cup (see rear image of A7R II below in the My Defaults section) while the later is a pop-up EVF and does not offer eye relief at all.
Both screens offer a slew of data from shutter speed, ISO, f-stop to digital levels, histograms and so on. I won't bore you with all the goodies, but there is a plethora of stuff that can be added to or removed from either screen.
The rear screen tilts up and down which is nice to hold over your head or at your feet to frame a decent shot. I don't use the screen often, but really enjoy the ability when I need it to compost a shot this way. I find this can be a stealthy way of composing a shot without those around aware of what you're doing - if stealth is your motive.
The Sony A7II offers up 25 contrast detection points and 399 phase detection points covering about half the sensor. The modes available here are Single, Continuous and Manual focus as well as AF-A and DMF modes that can be used with the native FE glass. As I don't tend to shoot moving targets, I stick to Single mode for almost all my shooting and have found it to be quite fast and really accurate.
I haven't played a lot with tracking yet - but got a couple photos of Chief Brody (left) chasing a Frisbee and I seemed to track him OK with the camera (not the most exciting shot though).
As always, you can also switch the focus areas between Wide Area, Zone Area, Center Area (my preference), Flexible Spot, Expand Flexible Spot, Lock-on AF Expand Flexible Spot, Lock-on AF, Eye AF (which I mapped to C1), and Face Detection.
The SONY A7R II Files
The files that come out of here are so nice - and you can crop like no tomorrow. I always shoot compressed RAW (43 MB compared to 80 MB for uncompressed), and the amount of detail in them is crazy. Other than focus, I don't let the camera make decisions for me, rather, I handle all that in post. Here is an image I took on the river over the weekend, as well as a 100% crop of the image. The 100% shows so much detail in the fisherman here - especially in his fishing line. (This one went through the Rebecca Lily Pro Set IV as well. In the next section, you can see a RAW sample from this same series).
Like with the Sony RX1R II, the files spoil me. There is a great deal of latitude in them and so much shadow detail. The IQ is really nice to work with and I am getting the hang of how they behave with my one-click edits.
Here is how I set up the camera for this test. Aside from the general settings, the first thing I did was disable the sound for focus confirmation. Drives me nuts. Then, as seen to the right, turned on Airplane mode for battery conservation.
Back Button Focus - I want to pull this one out separate before getting into the whole list. I had a lot of folks email me and ask about setting this up without digging into the menus. It's a 2-step setting you need to do, both in the settings menu (gear). First, set AF w/Shutter to off. This disables the autofocus function on the shutter release. Second, assign your new focus button in the Custom Key section. Personally, I like to assign the AF/MF Button to AF On.
OK, here's the list of things I adjusted - not every menu/setting noted:
- Camera Menu
- Quality - RAW
- RAW File Type - Compressed
- Drive Mode - Single Shooting
- Focus Area - Flexible Spot
- AF Illuminator - Off
- Exposure Comp - 0.0
- Metering Mode - Spot
- WB - Auto
- Long Exposure NR - Off
- High ISO NR - Off
- Low Pass Filter - Off
- Color Space - sRGB
- Settings Menu
- Zebra - Off
- MF Assist - On
- Grid Line - Rule of 3rds
- Auto Review - Off
- Peaking Level - Mid
- Exposure Set Guide - On
- Disp Cont AF Area - Off
- Phase Detect Area - Off
- Pre-AF - Off (save your battery!)
- FINDER/MONITOR - Viewfinder Only
- AF w/Shutter - Off (turn off focus with shutter release button)
- Custom Key - Control Wheel - Aperture
- Custom Key - C1 - set to Focus Mode
- Custom Key C2 - set to ISO
- Custom Key C3 - set to Focus Area
- Custom Key - AF/MF Button - set to AF On (back button focus)
- Custom Key - Down Button - set to Focus Settings (to move my Flexible Spot)
- Wireless Menu
- Airplane Mode - On (save your battery!)
- Toolbox Menu
- Monitor / Viewfinder Brightness - Auto
- Audio Signals - Shutter
- Display Quality - Standard
- Pwr Save Start Time - 1 Min
Sample Images - SOOC
Here are a some SOOC (aside from convert from RAW to JPEG of course) files to check out. No crop, no straighten. The very first image is interactive, and you can zoom into the details 100%. Image was taken with Zeiss Loxia 21mm at f/2.8 and ISO 200.
The images below are not the interactive versions like above.
Sample Images - One Click Edits
And here are a few samples that were one-click edited with Rebecca's preset and cropped / straightened.
It is very early on with this camera to have any firm conclusions, but I have to tell you, I was secretly hoping to not love this one. I have my film cameras that I am more than happy with, and my Sony RX1R II that I figured was all I wanted. I wanted to shoot this, get it out of my system, then return it. Well, it's not going back. As soon as I strapped on the Zeiss Batis 85 and walked around with the Sony A7R II I was smitten. This camera is really offering everything I currently want in a digital setup. Gorgeous files with the colors I enjoy, great speed and a joy to walk around with. I read complaints about the menu system, but really, once you set it up once, you don't need to dig in there much and it truly isn't that bad.
This is a fine compliment to my film work and will also be a great compliment to the Sony RX1R II - so yes, they are both staying. I plan to get a ton of use out of this throughout the year and re-touch this review with future thoughts, uses, issues or what have you.
If there's anything you want to see performed with this (aside from video) please feel free to let me know and I'll do my best to cover it.