Sony excited and annoyed a lot of people with the announcement of the Sony A7 Mark II this November. It created excitement because the new camera comes with the world’s first full-frame in-body image stabilization for a mirrorless camera, better ergonomics and materials, and autofocus refinements.
It also annoyed the existing A7 owners because the A7ii is coming out just one short year after the debut of the A7 (here are our first impressions). While 1 year (or less) production cycles are typical for consumer products, professional models like the Canon 5D and the Nikon DX00 series typically have a 2+ year production cycles. It’s going to be hard to keep up, buying a new camera every winter.
In this review, let’s look at 4 issues on whether existing Sony A7 users should or should not upgrade to the A7ii and whether photographers over in Canon and Nikon land should consider the A7 or the A7ii.
4. Five-Axis IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization)
The biggest hoopla about the Sony A7ii is really its 5-axis in-body image stabilization (IBIS). This is a first for full-frame cameras, chiefly because Canon, Nikon, and Leica, the only other full frame camera manufacturers, subscribe only to the optical image stabilization (OIS) philosophy. Other manufacturers sticking with IBIS include Olympus, Panasonic, and Ricoh/Pentax.
Should Upgrade: The benefit of IBIS on the A7ii is patently obvious. Suddenly, every single lens ever made for a 35mm camera (that can be adapted to the Sony FE mount) has image stabilization. Just imagine. Your Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 ? Stabilized. Nikon 50mm f/1.4? Stabilized. Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L? Stabilized. Low-light and natural-lighting photographers, candid photographers, legacy glass lovers, and general purpose prosumer and amateur photographers should rejoice.
But it’s more than that. IBIS adds flexibility. In situations where you don’t have an OIS lens, you can push your camera to 1/10s shutter speeds in bad lighting situations. Your lens selection is more flexible. All of your longer 85mm, 90mm, and 135mm portraits and telephotos lenses now have a breath of new life. Bottom line: IBIS increases the overall chances of getting the shot.
Shouldn’t Upgrade: How often do you need stabilization and just how well does IBIS compared to OIS?
You don’t need stabilization for daytime non-telephoto shots, any shots done on a tripod (landscape/architecture/macro), almost all shots done with a flash, or studio work with strobes. If you need to freeze motion at close distances, such as at weddings or street photography, you generally don’t need stabilization because freezing motion requires faster shutter speeds which defeats the benefits of an IS system (which lets you use a slower shutter speed without shake). As long as you can shoot at a shutter speed above the inverse of your lens’ focal length (50mm = 1/50s or faster) or you can crank up your ISO, you won’t need stablization.
IBIS effectiveness is also limited by the maximum range of the sensor movement. This means that for long telephoto lenses, IBIS systems are less effective than OIS systems. Professional wildlife and sports photographers in the Sahara and at the Superbowl almost exclusively use Canon and Nikon lenses with their OIS systems (some use Sony SLTs). IBIS systems from Olympus and Pentax are also consumer grade. While reports argue that Olympus’s IBIS is impressive, it also has a very tiny sensor to move around. It’s yet to be seen whether Sony’s new IBIS can really do the job as well as OIS systems. Early pre-order reports suggest otherwise. (Edit: A new report claims that some A mount lenses when adapted to the E mount only offer 3-axis stabilization instead of 5-axis.) Bottom line: When you are not using stabilization or when it is not effective, IBIS is just dead weight.
3. Weight & Size
The inclusion of the 5-axis IBIS also means the Sony A7ii got bigger and heavier. The new Sony A7ii weighs in at 599g as compared to the A7’s 474g. Dimensionally, the A7ii is about 10mm thicker while its width and height remains essentially the same.
Should Upgrade: Even though the A7ii put on weight, it’s still very small and light compared to all of the other full frame options out there.
With the exception of the A7/7R/7S and the Leica M9, the A7II is still one of the lightest full-frame cameras on the market today. Bear in mind that the A7ii’s materials are improved and the camera is also now completely magnesium alloy rather than A7’s plastic.
Also, it has largely retained the same dimensions as the A7 even with the IBIS. That’s an incredible feat. It’s worth giving up a little bit of weight and size for all those magnetics moving the FF sensor around. The added 125g is just about 50 American pennies. Bottom line: The weight and size increase is so slight that it’s chump change, well worth the enhanced ergonomics, construction, and IBIS.
Shouldn’t Upgrade: The whole selling point of the mirrorless full frame format is its light weight and small size. If we didn’t care about those things, we would stick with the Canon 5D Mark III or Nikon D800 and all of their gorgeous lenses.
Now, the A7II is 26% fatter than the Sony A7. This really eats into its competitive advantage. The Sony A7 weighed merely 58.5% of the Canon 5D Mark II (a full-frame camera that was known for its lightness at the time). Now, the Sony A7ii weighs 73.9% of the 5Dii. Maybe a pocket full of pennies weigh more than you think?
Also, being light weight is more important than size because the A7 has never been a pocketable camera with its protruding lens anyways. But pound-for-pound, the A7 can really punch above its weight. Bottom line: Why not just stick with the Canon 6D or Nikon DF if those are merely 161g heavier?
2. Autofocus Refinements
Sony marketing materials claim that the AF performance is 30% faster and tracking is 1.5x better. With the lack of independent testing at the time of this article, we’ll have to take their word for it at this point. So assuming that the refinements are true…
Should Upgrade: AF performance is one of the key criticisms of the Sony A7/A7R series. The Sony A7 had 117 phase detection AF points. Sony A7R had none. Although the A7 did have a hybrid AF system, it would only autofocus above EV 0, meaning that it would be contrast detect AF in dark situations. Not a speed demon to say the least. The Sony A7ii has addressed those issues with increase performance and better tracking, two key shortfalls before. Bottom line: Sony listened to the users and made improvements.
Shouldn’t Upgrade: The Sony A7ii uses the same hybrid AF technology as the Sony A7 (maybe even the same sensor). It is a marginal improvement but not enough to bring the camera into speed demon levels (like the A6000). The increased speed is also supposedly from the processing unit rather than the AF unit, so until Sony debuts a new hybrid AF system like the one on the A6000, autofocus performance will still lag behind the current FF DSLRs. Bottom line: AF performance shouldn’t justify an upgrade.
1. Price and Sony Rebates
The Sony A7 launched in October of 2013 and hit the shelves shortly afterwards. Within 6 months, there was a $200 rebate going around. Now that the A7II is launched, the A7 has a $400 rebate. Since Sony is pricing these cameras so aggressively, we can only assume that the A7II will also see a rebate during spring of 2015.
Should Upgrade: Sony launched the A7II at the same price point as the A7 a year ago, at about $1700. This means, we are getting all the goodies like the IBIS, better AF, and all magnesium alloy body (rather than plastic on the A7) for the same price point. That’s an incredibly good deal. Bottom line: The A7II remains an incredibly affordable full-frame camera packed full of new technology. We’re getting more for the same price.
Shouldn’t Upgrade: New model means lower prices on the old stock. A brand new Sony A7 is now selling for
$1300 $1200. There are micro 4/3rds cameras out there that cost more than that. This makes the Sony A7 the best deal for a full-frame camera on the market right now. I guess this point is pretty moot for existing A7 users but for people thinking about diving into the Sony brand, the A7 is still very attractive. Bottom line. The A7 is now the least expensive full-frame camera today.
It’s evident that the Sony A7II’s pièce de résistance is its 5-axis IBIS. Sure, there are other marginal improvements, but the IBIS is what really knocks this camera out of the ballpark.
If you are a current A7 user, you’d have to consider long and hard whether the upgrade is worth it. It all depends on your shooting style and if you really need stabilization.
Photographers considering switching to Sony now really have two brilliant choices. Should you go for the new A7ii for hundreds less than Canon and Nikon full-frame cameras or should you go for the ridiculously good valued Sony A7?
Don’t think too long because apparently Sony is bringing out a higher-end A9 early next year.
Thank you for your support.