The Sony A7 Family – Mirrorless Kings
Sony has been one of the leaders in the imaging industry for years now. Their previous Alpha collection of cameras have proven again and again that they know what they are doing when it comes to photography; amateur and professional alike. Their top of the line A7 was launched back in 2013 and spawned two sub products, the A7R and A7S in 2014. These trio of cameras were very highly acclaimed. Their mirrorless approach to making the cameras proved to be a gamble that paid off. It made sense, it made the camera lighter, smaller, slimmer, and easily more portable.
In late 2014, Sony announced the second generation of the A7 – the A7 Mark II (in short A7 II). It improved on the design of the original A7 and fixed some of what users found lacking in that same hardware package. They also added the support for 4K video out-out-of-the-box which was a welcoming feature. In 2015 then the A7R Mark II and A7S Mark II came into the world and became the kings of photography and videography. The A7R II packed even more megapixel count on its sensor than its predecessor and the A7 Mark II. The A7S II’s megapixel count did not change by much but Sony managed to make its low-light performance even better; that low-light performance earned it the nickname ‘low-light king’.
Sony just had their Sony Alpha Workshop recently; about two weeks ago actually. During the stint, we got our hands on a certain Sony Alpha camera. To be specific, we got our hands on the Sony Alpha 7 R Mark II. We did not however get it long enough to give it a full review of any sort, so here is our 6 hours with the Sony A7R II. Do keep in mind though that the unit that we tested was not brand new, so there are some scuff and scratches on the body and lens provided. We got to test it with a 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G Lens.
Six Hours With the Sony A7R II
At first impressions, lifting up the body itself, it was light; very light. It was small too; more like compact, not that much bigger than the average point and shoot camera. I personally have small hands, and because that I do feel very comfortable with the size of the camera body itself. Individual with larger hands though might find it a little uncomfortable with its size. The layout of the buttons on the camera are quite spaced out with a few extra customised buttons. The customised buttons allows users to change and setup the camera to his/her own preference.
If you have read previous reviews of the Sony A7 Mark II family of cameras you might have caught that many do not favour the placement of the video record button. The placement of the video record button, I admit is a little bit on the odd side. It is placed at the side of the body, where the grip is. It is placed such that when you are actually holding the camera to shoot your thumb would totally cover the video record button.
Overall the camera felt very sturdy. The grip side is covered in what felt like faux leather to make it softer and more comfortable to hold. Other than the grip, the magnesium alloy body felt very solid and well put together. The buttons also do not feel like they are going to fall apart anytime soon, though the scuffs on the body do indicate that the unit we had was used quite extensively. Its swiveling LCD screen is a little help when shooting at low angles. The display is sharp and bright though it could use more flexibility options. The only complaint I personally had was on the shutter button.
The shutter button is not like any other shutter button that I am used to. Most shutter buttons employs a two-stage click mechanism for autofocus and actually shooting. Usually, the clicks are very apparent. On the Sony A7R II that we had, the two-stage click seems very non-existent. Not to say that it does not focus first before taking snapshots, it does. It also has that two-stage click mechanism, just that there is almost no distinction between the autofocus click and the snapshoot click. Of course that is easily corrected once you get used to it. Simply press the button very lightly – to the point that the button just sinks in to autofocus, and press harder – to the point where the button does not travel anymore to take a snapshot. Still, it does take a little bit of adjusting to.
Because we only had a little more than 6 hours with it we did not try to fiddle much with the settings that the camera comes with. All we tried to change with the settings is the video recording setting. The initial setting that the camera came with was for 1080p Full HD video shooting. We wanted to change it to a 4K video recording and it turns out we needed to format our SD card to a PAL setting.
The initial thought when entering the menu interface however was that it was a little overwhelming. The settings allow you to control almost every part of the camera, including changing the custom buttons to whatever function you wish is at your finger’s reach. It gives you complete customisability over your camera. But there is so much going on and so many menus and sub-menus that it gets confusing. To change certain settings, you need to delve very deep into the settings menu and that is a little bit of a learning curve.
This is the meat of any cameras. At that front, it was all praises on the camera. The details the 42.4-megapixel sensor was nothing short of amazing. Only issue is that it was quite a challenge taking photos at low-light conditions. Setting it to a high ISO only creates more noise. But then again, that was not what the A7R II was designed for. Check out the photos in the gallery and judge for yourself the photos. Photos are in JPEG though so it may not do too much justice to the camera. Also the lens provided to us was a 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G lens, which makes it even tougher to shoot in low-light. Also, the aperture opening of the lens is nowhere near big enough for a decent depth-of-field so do not expect any magical ‘bokeh’ from the samples.
The battery provided with the unit, well when you purchase the unit anyway is a 1020mAh Sony battery. We were told that there is two batteries in-the-box when you buy the Sony A7R II. The battery capacity sounds small? Because it is small. The battery is no bigger than three pen drives stacked on one another. But because it is small, it is light. Fitting of a lightweight body as well. The issue with small battery though is that it does not last.
While other high-end cameras can boast up to nearly 1,000 shots on a single charge, this A7R II can only last, in my test up to 300 photos on a near full charge. On a full charge we are guessing that it might last up to 400 photos. You are provided with two batteries though so there is nothing to worry about. You can even charge the camera via a Micro USB wire so if you are packing a powerbank you are safe too.
Sony A7R II – The Best Mirrorless Ever?
They always say “more is better” or “bigger is better”, and that is usually the case with cameras. The general perception is that the larger the sensor, the better the camera. That could be the case when you talk about image quality. The larger the sensor, the more detail captured. The megapixel count too; the more the megapixel, the better the camera. It could be.
The 42.4-megapixel full frame CMOS sensor that the Sony A7R II fits is no doubt one of the best imaging sensor out there. It does with super detailed image making it hard to ignore compared to the other high-end offerings. Compared to the competitors as well the photos by this A7R II are arguably the most detailed due to its megapixel count. While that would be the case in conditions of good lighting, the megapixel count could be its downfall.
The A7R II, while boasting very high ISO count capability (102400 for stills to be exact) should not be pushed to anything past 10400 ISO in my opinion (again, keep in mind we only had a few hours with the camera, not much time for us to process photos. We have read and seen great results coming out from ISO 25600 on the A7R II, given the time and right gear we might be able to produce those as well.) . Images taken at that point are pretty much unusable due to the noticeably grains in the photo. That is not a problem that is reserved to Sony’s A7R II though. It is a problem with other cameras with high megapixel count.
While we tried shooting some 1080p Full HD videos at 60fps, the footage was quite unusable too. Mostly because it was not the right lens and we did not want to push ISO to further than 10400, so the footage was very dark (pretty much black all the way, does not do the camera justice). But then again the Sony A7R II is not designed for low-light photography or videography. For those, the Sony staff with us recommended the A7S II.
The battery life to some is woeful. To us though it is a sensible sacrifice to make if you get a smaller lighter body. Any sensible or aspiring photographers will always get extra batteries in their gear bag anyway. It is also a problem easily solved by getting the battery grip also offered by Sony. In our books though we do not see it as an issue worth cringing about; since Sony also includes an extra battery in-the-box.
Overall we think that this is a brilliant camera. Sure, it is expensive retailing at MYR11,999 for the body only. You have to fork out a couple more thousand for a set of good lenses worth the A7R II. But if you are an aspiring photographer, or a professional looking for a change this could be a game changer. Its light and compact body is a refreshing welcome compared to all the other heavy, bulky high-end cameras. This is a full frame camera mind you. Lens choice from Sony may not be as extensive as, let’s say Canon but that is also easily solved by getting adapters. Just hold one, try one even, and prepare to be amazed.