(We gave our first impressions here in Part 1 on the A7II. We’re now about to detail its image quality in real life.)
Sony just announced the all new A7rII (please read here our Top 7 Game Changing Features of the A7rII) with some amazing new features. We love how aggressive Sony is on the market forcing the “big ones” to react or die. This is an excellent competition, forcing every manufacturers to move forward and offer some real innovative technologies that Canon and Nikon (10 reasons to switch to mirrorless) have not been too prompt to do these past 5 years, thinking that their reputation and their cameras were good enough no matter what (Will they go full frame mirrorless?).
“You will never regret, even a second, the images produced by this sensor”.
That being said, with the A7 series announced back in October 2013, Sony had already declared war to Canon and Nikon with this new category of weapons stating new references on the market especially with the A7s in terms of ISO performances. This series was very well engineered right from scratch and no one can deny its success now. The A7II is thus a refinement of the A7 featuring new assests/ skills that we have been discussing in the first part here.
As you already know, I loved how handy and well built this camera is. It is very practical and easy to use even though I think I could use one more customizable button. I also had to point a few flaws but they are not significant considering the qualities and the delight that this camera will offer you! So I am now going to test and review the image quality, for those who cannot put $3200 on the table to splurge on the all new A7rII (body only), the A7II offers already a great quality enjoyable for most of us, enthusiats and even pro-photographers — as I discussed here in a previous article — for half the price, $1600 body only.
It is clear that the image quality depends on the lens you are using. It is then difficult to establish a clear ranking unless you do scientific tests and multiple comparisons with different cameras with the same lenses like DxOlab would do.
So basically, instead of shooting in a lab, with graph charts, I will share here my impressions and experience on the field with this camera after almost a month using it. The goal here is to show you what you can expect as a regular user, what you can get from this camera.
I will not be long here, this is razor sharp. I understand that high megapixel sensors without low-pass filter are sharper but there’s nothing to complain about here. Unless you need to print a huge frame to cover a whole wall, or need to crop outrageously your picture, you will never regret, even a second, the images produced by this sensor, especially if you have the Zeiss lenses like the new Batis, Loxia or Otus ones. The 55mm f/1.8, the 16-35mm f/4, the 70-200mm f/4 G, or the latest Sony 90mm f/2.8 G macro are already all considered as among the sharpest lenses on the market, including the L glasses from Canon for instance. Just take a look at the DxO lab tests and you will be convinced.
The lenses used so far for this test are the Sony 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 and the Sigma 150mm f2.8 APO macro EX DG HSM OS. It is very impressive and pleasing to wander in the RAW file cropped at 100%. You discover details that you had not seen while shooting on the field. It is sharp and clean. see the examples below:
This gives you an idea of how performs the kit lens in the worst light conditions that you can find. Considering the light conditions here, it is pretty good as you will see later in this article that I lit up a lot the shadows. This is only one shot for the test purpose. Typically, it should be 5 frames in order to expose correctly each range of lighting in the scene. This kind of shot is a challenge for the sensors as you have very dark areas and extremely bright lights at the same time. I almost did not apply any noise reduction here. So overall we can still consider it pretty sharp here. This leads us to the dynamic range offered by this sensor.
As you can see above with the before/after display on LightRoom I worked a lot on the lighting. The RAW files gives you a lot of room to play with the shadows. As I said, if I wanted to have a perfect picture here, I would have needed to shoot at least 3 or 5 frames to combine in order to have the best possible exposure. This shows you what we can achieve with only one shot. It is a high dynamic sensor, probably not like the A7r but it is already enough for most shots. With only one shot you can achieve HDR photographs which is excellent.
As for the colors, the rendering is very good and accurate, I would say very realistic. Compared to Canon that usually prefers to give at default a higher temperature in terms of White Balance to its pictures, Sony’s is a little bit cold but more accurate to the reality in my opinion. It is not that important in the end as you can edit your RAWs very easily with LightRoom afterwards.
Moreover the auto-exposure value is very good. You will rarely find yourself with blown highlights. It exposes very well your scenes. In general this is not a problem anymore with the latest cameras, even less with full frame models. I almost never have to use the exposure compensation unless I shoot in complex light conditions. But if you want to be sure not to blow your highlights you can raise by a third or 2/3rd your exposure compensation in order to underexpose slightly the scenery and work on it after while doing the post-processing on the computer.
Extremely clean, neat and pleasant. That is how I would define the amount of noise produced until ISO 3200. Above, you will have to apply a little noise reduction in LightRoom. It is automatically limited to ISO 6400 (you can change this value) which I think is wise. Photographs taken at ISO 6400 with noise reduction applied are easily usable, even in large prints, but it can be risky above. That being said, if you only use your pictures for Internet use, ISO 12800 is usable.
The image above is usually harsh on the noise as I have to reach at least 1/1500- 1/2000 of a second to get that bokeh as it is falling droplets and without so much light (dark background). (Tutorial here) It is, however, very clean with almost no noise reduction applied.
Again, this will also depend on the lens you have. But regardless, this next generation improved a little bit the AF speed making it good enough for most photography fields. It’s quick and accurate in almost all conditions. It is of course a little slower at night but nothing to be scared of. Unless you need to shoot fast moving subjects like for motocross racing or running dogs, you might have a couple of blurred shots, but most will be accurate. I really don’t complain here. Besides, the A7 series is fantastic to use with full manual lenses. That makes it a very versatile system.
Some varied real life picture samples
5 axis in-body stabilization and video capabilities
I have not really tested the 5 axis IBIS yet as the only non-stabilized lens I have so far for full frame E-mount is the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8. Such a wide angle lens doesn’t really need to be stabilized but from what I could see with the 28-70mm lens it is good enough to get handheld sharp night shots at low speed shutters like 1/3 or 1/5 of a second. As for the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro, I prefer to use the stabilization in the lens that Sigma developed for this lens. I am under the impression that it is better than to turn it off and use the 5 axis IBIS of the A7II.
Regarding the video capabilities, I am not a videographer so I will let the videographers on the Internet answer for you. Just so that you know it features the new A7s video formats but cannot do 4K.
This is truly a camera that I love in many aspects. It’s very practical, easy to use, and it produces very high quality pictures. What’s not to like? I even love it’s look, even if I prefer slightly the Olympus OMD EM1 silver look. I usually think that FF DSLRs look like tanks but that is a very personal opinion. This Sony A7 Mark II is fantastic. Here are my pros and cons:
What I love:
- In-body five-axis image stabilization works with any third party lens making this system very versatile.
- The ergonomics are great. It fits well in your hand thanks to the beefy grip and is an all-around positive experience carrying it. It feels very well built, solid and durable. Sony claims it is weather sealed which is a very good point to highlight.
- There are plentiful customizable buttons on the body even if I could use just one more.
- Fantastic image quality with brilliant dynamic range and gorgeous color response.
- Excellent levels of detail from the 24 megapixel sensor.
- Low noise through ISO 3200 and acceptable noise at higher sensitivities.
- Very nice viewfinder even if I can see some moire in it in very specific conditions (it is luminous and responsive) and excellent rear screen.
- Autofocus is quick and accurate and tracks motion well.
- The all metal lens mount keeps the lenses feeling stiff and non-wobbly when mounted, a problem that some of the original Sony a7 and Sony a7R bodies have.
- Favorable price compared to the other cameras in the Sony a7 line and the most affordable one compared to all FF DSLRs.
What could be improved:
- Battery life suffers when using image stabilization.
- Improvements to build quality and built-in 5 axis IBIS have the downside of added weight.
- Wheel-dial button refinement to avoid accidental presses when cycling the wheel.
- Cheap feeling accessory doors when compared to the quality of the rest of the body.
- An electronic shutter function would be nice to have
Please, leave me your thoughts and comments below!