At last! This little wonder eventually arrived at home. It arrived in a quite nice bundle from Amazon at only $1800. This bundle included, among other things, a flexible tripod, a spare battery with an independent charger (very important), a remote control, 3 filters, a case to carry it around, a 64Mo Sony memory card, screen protectors, a HDMI cable etc. Considering that this is one of the latest full frame camera on the market, this is pretty inexpensive. Take a look at my other article comparing the A7 to other full frame cameras from Nikon and Canon. Just a few words about its look. I know this is very personal, some might hate it and other will love it. I am in that last group. I think it’s just retro and modern at the same time in a very subtle way. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is better looking in my opinion but this is another category, a micro 4/3rd. So thumbs up to the designers as I think it’s a very good looking camera.
The Build Quality
As you already probably read everywhere that the A7mII has a new grip, new dials and customizable buttons and of course the 5 axis sensor stabilization, I should not go over this again. But I must say that I’ve always been impressed to find a full frame sensor into such a small body, and now with the 5 axis IBIS, it is even more amazing.
So here I’ll give you my impressions on its build quality and handling before talking about its image quality in a following article. By the way, I can already tell you that i’m going to test the Rokinon 14mm f/2.5 FE mount, the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro and its LA-EA4 adaptor, and this kit lens (Sony 28-70mm F/3.5-5.6) that deserves good critics!
With its completely new and redefined weather-resistant magnesium alloy body, the A7II is extremely well built. As soon as you take it into your hand, you can feel it’s very robust, solid and it gives the impression it is very durable, something of very high quality. That’s a very good point compared to its predecessor, which was pretty with its glossy black finish, but certainly not as well built. We can immediately note that Sony worked a lot on it, listened to the customers and released a fine tuned product. Everything seems robust and well finished. Also, its lens mount has finally been toughened too.
The only parts that could have required a little more attention from the Sony engineers are the micro USB and HDMI ports door and the memory card slot door that are not sturdy enough in my opinion. The first one shows a little bit of looseness, but nothing worrying either. Sure, some will say the new front and rear dials are not as good but its resistance when you use them is perfect. It just requires to get used to it and after a couple of hours you’ll be fine. It does the job. As for the wheel next to the screen, you will probably think it’s too small but I’m used to it and I think it’s well built. In comparison the wheel on the Canon 5DIII seems too big to me.
All in all, the buttons are all well placed and their feeling is nice. Maybe a bit small, especially for those who have big hands but it’s just fine for me. I must admit that I prefer how the A7II is built and “organized” than the Canon 5DmIII finish. On the contrary the Sony strap disappointed me a little bit. It could have been better. But again, considering its price, you have to cut on some things and I prefer the engineers to have chosen not to give a nice and high quality strap than to have neglected the build quality.
One big surprise for me was its weight. It’s undeniably a lot smaller and lighter than any full frame DSLR on the market (comparison here) but this new version is heavy for its size. Given its size, I wasn’t expecting it to be this heavy. But don’t get me wrong, 600g is always way lighter than the 950g of the Canon 5DmIII. By the way I think the weight adds to this impression it has been built tough! That is not a bad thing after all, it feels more stable in hand.
Speaking of “hand”, holding this camera is very pleasant. The grip is just the right size to seize it correctly and without being tiring to hold and carry it on the long run. It is indeed, something in between a DSLR and a mirrorless. Perfect balance by me. The buttons are very well placed for the fingers. You can even almost reach all of them holding your camera with one hand. You can actually control and shoot with this camera with only one hand, which is a bit silly but funny to mention. it is a real delight to hold and go around with it. It has all the necessary manual and customizable buttons one can expect from this kind of camera. It gives you a quick access to the main features and options you’ll need while shooting in the field. An overall of 10 buttons/wheel/dials can be set to your desires.
For those who say it lost it’s mirrorless advantage, which is the size and weight, the A7 never was a pocketable camera like the A5000. You cannot buy a full frame camera expecting to put a full frame lens into the pocket of your jacket. The A7 (markII) is a way to diminish the size and wait of your back-pack. You will not be as exhausted and tired of holding/carrying a tank all day long while it has the same image quality that a full frame body can offer. Just for the anecdote, the A7 is more or less the size of an Olympus OMD-EM5 housing a sensor (micro 4/3rd) half the size of the A7’s! And it’s the same price as the A7II with a 12-40mm (24-80mm FF equivalent) But of course, it is lighter and the lenses are smaller, but without an amazing FF sensor.
The Operating and Menu system
Sony is known not to make very user friendly operating systems for the cameras it designs. The menu here is still exhaustive but also very comprehensive. It is way better than the NEX series. This time it looks more like a DSLR menu. After all, once you have tuned your camera, you do not need to navigate all the time into the menus, fortunately! There is a quick access to the main controls that you might need thanks to the function button (Fn).
The online store, called Play Memories store, is unfortunately only a gimmick. It is pretty tedious without a touch screen, the apps are expensive (often $10) and not that useful excepted for the timer for those who like to do timelapse shots.
Like most of the reviews out there, I recommend to turn on the airplane mode to avoid to have your battery eaten alive. It is a bit harsh to say it like this though. The battery life is not good and you have to have a spare battery for you own peace of mind but if you use it wisely, it might last the day of hiking. I also recommend to switch off the pre-AF function which enables the camera to constantly pre-focus on things it sees before you press the shutter button. It uses a lot of energy.
The starting time is quite good, not as good as a DSLR but nothing to worry about. You should be able to shoot hardly more than half a second after having turned it on.
The auto-focus speed reassured me a lot right away. I know Sony claims it has been improved by 30% from its predecessor, but all I notice is that it’s quick and very accurate. Unless you need a sports camera, the focusing speed is very satisfying. In low light conditions it is a little bit slower but just like any other cameras. It is a very good point to highlight as mirrorless cameras are often criticized for their slow AF systems for almost every kind of photography. So nothing to worry about here.
Regarding the shutter sound, it is quieter than what I expected. It is comparable to most DSLRs and definitely quieter than the A7R. You shouldn’t encounter any problem with this one. Here’s a good comparison.
Last but not least, I want to talk a little bit about the view-finder.
There are many debates on the Internet, forums etc. about optical or electronic view-finders. Most prefer an optical one. It’s more pleasant to use, more natural and thanks to it (the mirror) the focusing speed is generally better, especially in low light conditions. Low light condition is a challenge for electronic view-finders. The lag time is not pleasant at all, it gives that feeling your camera is very slow, just like a struggling old computer. In many ways, OVFs are better in that matter.
As good as the A7II’s EVF is, it’s not cool to see moire in the finder while shooting buildings for instance. You won’t see that most of the time but architectural photography will trigger sometimes this impression, as well as some shirts worn by the subject you are shooting. It has a lag time in very low light conditions that is not really pleasant either, but that being said, it is colorful, bright and covers 100%. And on top of everything, you get the live view right into the view-finder. This is a delight to use and makes you save so much time as you don’t have to check your photo after each shoot. This, combined with focus peaking, is perfect for manual focusing lenses enthusiasts. This is, to me, such a big advantage that it’s worth the little drawbacks caused by this tiny little screen built-in your finder. It is a sacrifice I am willing to do.
Before testing the core matter of a camera, its image quality, I can assess that this new version that is the A7II has many talents and qualities that I have troubles to counterbalance with singnificant drawbacks. It’s a very versatile camera with very good performances, a very high build quality and is very handy in many ways as you already read my enthusiasm throughout out this article.
These are the cons I could identify:
- Added weight compared to the A7 (but you have to make compromises to have a better build quality and IBIS)
- The EVF because of moire in some conditions and lag time in very low light
- Play Memories store being a gimmick and too expensive
- The connectors door on the left side (micro USB and HDMI) showing some looseness.
Here is a size comparison with one of the smallest APS-C sensor interchangeable lens camera on the market, the sony NEX-5T: