The Sony A7R II is hitting shelves in a couple days, and its aim is a lofty one: to outshine its predecessor, the ground-breaking Sony A7R. The original A7R was a landmark camera for photographers who needed resolution but didn’t want to break the bank or their backs. At a mere 14 oz, however, it may have been TOO lightweight- its main drawback (among pixel peepers, and real-world wildlife, etc. photographers alike) was that a phenomenon known as “shutter shock” was actually a serious problem.
The A7R II is a “whopping” 22 ounces, which for the record is only 3 ounces shy of the Nikon Df’s 25 ounces and 4 ounces shy of the D750’s 26 ounces. (A Nikon D810 is 31 ounces, though).
Suffice to say, over the past year or two, Sony’s FE bodies and lenses have shaped up to be about the same weight and price as a comparable Canon or Nikon setup. According to Sony, (I’m here in Portland Oregon at a Sony event, in the spirit of full disclosure), what then is the best way to “beat” the competition? To simply be better, period.
As you’ll see, that’s exactly what Sony appears to be doing with the A7R II.
In a few days, we’ll be publishing our full review, but let’s start off with a few general pros and cons in this brief Initial Impressions review.
First of all, the images. Wow! We’ll get to ISO samples below, but suffice to say that Sony’s BSI sensor technology is a home run. Considering that Sony has already answered some folks’ cries about RAW compression, I think we’ll be hard-pressed to find fault in this sensor.
Next, the AF technology that is in this camera is truly impressive. I’ve always said, on-sensor hybrid AF is the future. It is only a matter of time until this style of camera finally becomes superior to Nikon and Canon AF. Well, that time might be now. We’re still testing various different shooting conditions, but my main problem, low-light focusing reliability, and speed is being well-met. I do suspect that Nikon’s 3-D tracking, which is many generations old by now, may still be superior to the A7R II‘s new adaptive, dynamic AF modes. But again, it’s only a matter of time, and those are the kinds of things that can be improved dramatically with a mere firmware update. Who knows.
Battery life is still in the realm of “gobbling them up.” Mirrorless cameras will always eat batteries far faster than a traditional DSLR, and there’s nothing we can do about that. There are no real breakthroughs in battery chemistry on the horizon. So, buy an extra 2-3 batteries, or get a battery pack if that’s your thing and call it a day.
So, let’s jump to a conclusion: Feature-wise, the A7R II is impressive. In-body stabilization, in-body 4K video, and extreme dynamic range S-Log2 are all features that Nikon and Canon are either never going to offer, or still 1-2 camera generations away from adding. If any of these features are of interest to you, or if you just want the ultimate high-resolution camera for landscapes or editorial work, etc., this is the camera for you.
I’m hard-pressed to come up with any solid cons. Autofocus could always be improved, and if you’re an NFL photographer you might be shooting a 1DX or D4s for another generation, or three. That’s a given. The only true “con” that I can come up with is that these types of hot new cameras could always use polish. Canon and Nikon have been making photography-oriented cameras for decades, and you can feel it in their ergonomics, their menu layout, etc. But that is becoming a harder nit to pick, and today I find myself not being able to really put my finger on exact things that are “wrong.” The command dials could be improved in their tactile feel, and the customizations could be tweaked.
Lastly, mainly, the camera could be faster on the back-end. It’s impressively fast when shooting, with relatively snappy AF and an impressive frame rate considering the resolution. But during image review and various other back-of-the-camera things, I sometimes find myself waiting a second or two. This shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for most photographers, and to be honest if you’re just now getting into photography, you might be much more ready to adapt than I am. I pride myself in being able to pick up any camera and figure it out within a few hours, but I must admit the Sony’s features and customizations are a bit daunting. Then again, have you seen how many options Canon has for autofocus now, too?
But I digress. The bottom line is that this is a fantastic camera. I won’t go down the rabbit-hole of “Canon and Nikon need to get on board with mirrorless ASAP, or else…” because if you’re happy with the camera you have, you should keep using it.
Without any further ado, here are my “boring” Sony A7R II test images. Stay tuned in the coming days for more exciting images, more extensive tests, and a final verdict!
Sony a7r Autofocus
We had seen a few videos showing this improved performance, but none quite got the message across like the one that I am sharing with you today. Most of the other videos that we have seen show someone waving a camera around with audible AF confirmed tones ringing. Sure, that sounds great, but that doesn’t really SHOW us the performance.
In the video below, Lucas Kurt demonstrates the AF performance of the Sony A7RII with the Canon 40mm STM lens. With our view from behind the camera, we can see what is happening on the LCD, letting us actually see how the camera is handling the lens.
I don’t know about you, but I am thoroughly impressed by what I saw in this video. As I mentioned above, it’s one thing to hear a bunch of AF confirmation tones from a camera, it’s another to see the camera AF and track subject live from its LCD. The A7R II is becoming more and more attractive to me every day.
Sony A7R mkII ISO Sample Images
The following images are completely un-edited, RAW images opened in Adobe Lightroom CC. Scroll to the very end to see a dynamic range demonstration, and a comparison against the Nikon D750 at ISO 6400.
Nikon D750 seen below for comparison. The Sony has very similar noise performance, despite being 42 megapixels instead of 24. (The images were captured at different focal lengths to match the 100% views). Also, the Sony image clearly has far more vibrant colors at 6400, which is quite impressive. Then again, the Sony images are pretty colorful all the way until ISO 102400. (I wonder how this sensor will score on DXO’s “Portrait” ranking!)
Below is a dynamic range comparison at ISO 100: The images have received no additional processing except +100 Shadows and +100 Blacks. It appears that the Nikon D750 has much cleaner shadows (despite some weird flare affecting the image!). I’ll have to perform some more testing and see if this proves true.
AGAIN, please note that I’ve used the D750 at 24mm to compare the A7R II at 16mm. I did this because I wanted the 100% crops to look the same. The fact that the Sony is delivering these results at 42 megapixels instead of ~24 is very impressive.
There are innumerable other cameras that I’m eager to compare these results against, however, I think that if the Sony A7R II’s sensor can look this good against the cutting-edge Nikon D750, it’s safe to say it could effortlessly beat all of Nikon 36 MP sensors, and certainly Canon’s 52 MP sensor(s).
Aside from the BSI sensor’s impressive high ISO performance, what other major improvements does the A7R II potentially bring to the table? Obviously there’s the 4K video I mentioned, and that is something we’ll get to very soon. There’s also autofocus improvements, both in speed and low-light reliability, blowing away the previous A7R and even surpassing the A7II. Noticeable? Yes. Quantifiable? Not yet…
I haven’t had a chance to truly push the envelope at a wedding reception, but all my general walk-around tests indicate that this might be “game over” for DSLR phase-detect in all but the most demanding fast-action sports conditions. You can order the A7R II on B&H here.
Sony A7R mkII, Sony Fe 90mm f/2.8 G OSS Macro
1/250 sec @ f/2.8 & ISO 1600