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Breaking Down the A7RII Hype – Should A7/R/S Users Make the $3200 Upgrade?

Sony has released a full-frame camera about every 6 months since the launch of the A7 & A7R back in late 2013. This is fairly incredible, considering how Canon DSLR productions cycles have been as long as 4 years.

A7lineup
In less than 2 years, Sony went from 0 full frame mirrorless cameras to 5. Aggressive product launch? We think so.

Each announcement has been bigger than the last. The A7/A7R were the world’s first full-frame mirrorless cameras. The A7S could literally see in the dark. And the A7II was the world’s first full-frame with in-body image stabilization. What’s next? How about putting everything together into one body?

tom fishburn new product adoption
The Sony A7RII is trying to jump “The Chasm.” All you Sony A7, A7R, A7S, A7II shooter out there right now, you are innovators and early adopters.

Online forums, Facebook groups, and blogs erupted with excitement as Sony announced the A7R Mark II. We pointed out its “7 Game Changing Features” when we first heard about the news. Now, after we’ve had a few weeks to cool off from the initial hype, let’s really look into whether we should upgrade.

In this article, like our previous one, we’ll look at 5 issues on whether existing Sony A7, A7R, and A7S users should or should not upgrade to the A7RII.

5. The $3200 Question

Sony A7RII Preorder

Price is always going to be the bottom line, so let’s get it out of the way first. The A7RII will be the most expensive A7 series camera when it comes out this August. $700 more than the low-light monster A7S. A whopping $900 more than the original hi-res A7R.

The price will certainly make it unaffordable for some hobbyists, but taking affordability out of the equation, let’s consider whether the camera is well priced. So the question becomes, assuming we can all afford the camera, is it worth $3,200? Is it a good buy?

Should Upgrade: The Sony A7RII is very well priced for a camera of its ability. It is priced right between the two comparable Canikon models, the D810 and the 5D Mark III. (See graph below). 

Sony A7RII Price compared to Canon and Nikon 3
How the A7RII fits into the current crop of pro-sumer FF cameras.

At $3,198, the A7RII is less expensive than the less capable Nikon D810. It is a whopping $700 and $500 less expensive than the new Canon 5DS-R and 5DS hi-res monsters. It is only $400 more expensive than a Canon 5D Mark III, considering it has a much higher pixel count (Sony’s 42MP vs Canon’s 22.3MP), a better AF system (Sony’s 399 phase detect points vs Canon ‘s 61 points), and in-body image stabilization. Bottom line: The A7RII has class leading technology yet priced similarly to other cameras of its class.

Shouldn’t Upgrade: How much money would you like to save so you can spend it on a new lens? Because if you look at the actual prices of the current crop of full-frame cameras (see graph below), it paints very much a different story. The A7RII, once it is launched in August, will be one of the most expensive full-frame cameras short of a Leica M9, the Canon 5DS’s, or a pro-bodied Canon 1D or Nikon D3.

Sony A7RII Price point 3

There are so many other quality choices. So for APS-C users or consumers new to the full-frame game, you could buy a similar spec-ed Sony A7II (minus the huge megapixels) and have $1,500 left over for lenses and steak dinners. Canon users can go for a 6D and save $1,800 for a EF 85mm f/1.2L II. Current A7 series users will take a double depreciation hit if they sell off their older models for the new one. Bottom line: The A7RII will still be one of the more expensive FF cameras on the market and it will be a hard decision with so many other excellent but less expensive options. 

4. All New High Speed Autofocus System

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By far the most attractive feature of the A7RII is its 399-point phase detect autofocus system. Sony claims that it is 40% faster than the Sony A7R and has an impressive AF sensitivity of -2EV to 20EV.

Should Upgrade: The Sony A7R’s contrast-detect only AF system was an embarrassment on a stunning system. Sony has addressed this issue superbly by introducing a high-speed hybrid system in the A7RII. It is a much needed upgrade to one of A7R’s and in fact the whole series’s weakest links. It brings this camera into contention with the best DSLRs in terms of speed and flexibility. 

But more importantly, the A7RII also focus EOS lenses with similar speeds as Canon Bodies. This is a big deal because it greatly expands the lens options available and it also means current Canon users won’t have to sell off their gear to make the switch. In fact, third party manufacturers have already made fully AF Nikon to Sony adapters for the E-mount. Bottom line: Imagine, one camera that can mount all of your Sony, Canon, Nikon, and Zeiss lenses! Sony users can rejoice as mirrorless full-frames finally close the speed gap with DSLRs.

Shouldn’t Upgrade: Aren’t you still getting the shots you want with what you already have? Aside from sports, wedding, and some wildlife photographers, lighting fast AF or tracking AF likely won’t matter to everyone. How many AF points do you currently use? I use one. The center one. I always have because I prefer my own selection than a computer algorithm guessing at what you want to shoot. Is an extra $1600 justifiable for a faster AF?

In terms of using other lenses via adapters, it adds bulk and weight which defeats the purpose of a light and compact mirrorless system. While it is 40% faster than the very slow contrast-detect only old model, will it really be as fast as a D810?

Don’t forget the fact that AF adapters are not compatible with every Canon and Nikon lens out there. This is not a focus issue but an electronic communication issue between the body, through the adapter, and the lens. Your EF 50mm f/1.4 USM, EF 85mm f/1.2L II, and your EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM may very well be manual focus only on a Sony body. [Edit: Our valued reader Jean mentioned to us on Facebook that the EF 24-105 f/4 do indeed AF with his adapter. In fact, here is a more complete compatibility list for EOS lenses] Bottom line: While fast AF is a huge marketing sell and it gets everybody’s juices flowing, a lot of us can still take great shots with the currently available AF systems. 

3. Full Frame 42 Megapixel Sensor

sony a7rii gapless design sensor

The A7RII’s 42 megapixels full frame sensor exceeds the $11,000 Hasselblad H5D-40 Medium Format in terms of resolving power. It’s gapless and back-illuminated design allows up to 3.5x faster in data transmission than Sony A7R. All this and it still has no optical low-pass filter and can shoot up to ISO 102,400? No wonder Sony makes 40% of the word’s supply of camera sensors.

Should Upgrade: A high resolution sensor with good low-light performance and focusing, what is not to like? The A7R was a resolution monster, and it lead to some of the highest DXO mark ratings ever tested (for Sony cameras and its Zeiss lenses). Are you really getting the most out of your Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 mini-Otus with an A7? Can you imagine the resolution of a low-pass filterless 42MP sensor with high quality Zeiss glass? Bottom line: There is a new megapixel war going on and A7RII is leading the charge. 42MP may be excess but it will also be future proof. 

Shouldn’t Upgrade: Crazy high megapixel counts are for marketing directors and pixel peepers. Majority of hobbyists do not print billboard sized prints. It certainly sells cameras but chances are, you won’t be needing about 22 of those 42 megapixels.

Yes, it is back illuminated so it offsets some of the low pixel pitch created by cramming 42 million of something onto a tiny wafer. If you compare two 42MP sensors compared side-by-side, one with back-illumination and another without, chances are the illuminated sensor will have lower noise at higher ISOs. But what about a 24MP sensor versus a 42MP sensor? Will the A7RII have better or worse low-light performance than an A7? Technology can’t overcome all physics. Bottom line: The 42MP is a huge marketing draw but many photographers will not be persuaded by the high pixel count. 

2. Five-Axis IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization)

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The biggest hoopla about the Sony A7II was its 5-axis in-body image stabilization (IBIS). With the A7RII, the same system has been grandfathered in plus a few tweaks. It’s still a big deal.

Should Upgrade: The benefit of IBIS 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 chance of getting the shot.

Shouldn’t Upgrade: How often do you need stabilization and just how well does IBIS compared to in-lens image stabilization?

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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 stabilization.

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. Also, A-mount lenses adapted to the E mount apparently 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.

1. Depreciation/Resale Value

Sony A7R
The market price of new and used A7R’s over time.

Camelcamelcamel.com is an easy to use price tracking website that stores and graphically displays historical Amazon prices. We didn’t mean to end off the article on a sobering note, but this is something that needs to be addressed (likely with a full in-depth article later on as well). Sony A7 series cameras, so far, have kept its value abysmally.

Should Upgrade: The Sony A7RII will depreciate less than Sony’s earlier FF models because any technological improvement after the A7RII will be more incremental rather than monumental. The A7 and A7R were the rush-to-market early models. The A7R had a problematic shutter, and the A7 was mostly plastic. They were the beta-testers that proved FF mirrorless had a viable market and A7RII is Sony’s first complete package. 

Sony A7S
The A7S has held onto its value a lot better than the other A7 cameras.

High quality and highly sought after products, like the A7RII, will keep its value. Just look at how the A7S compares to the other models. Its low-light performance is second-to-none and film-makers and photographers flock to that camera.

Also, what can Sony really improve after the A7RII? A few more pixels, a better rear LCD screen, slightly better noise performance? A few more phase detect focus points and a little bit faster AF performance? Maybe a better battery? Bottom line: Ground breaking or game changing updates likely won’t follow the A7RII so it will keep its value much better than others in the series. 

Shouldn’t Upgrade: Have you heard about the Sony A9 rumors? Or the curved sensors Sony have patented and successfully made? Your $3200 “investment” may well be worth $1,600 by 2017.

DSLR Camera Depreciation
Sony’s manufacturer rebates and price cuts have severely depressed the resale values.

It’s no secret that Sony, as a conglomerate, has a different business philosophy than other camera manufacturers. Like a Buick from the early-90s, the A7 series resale values plummets as soon as it leaves the shelves. The A7 and A7R have lost 50% of their resale values before they are even 2 years old, thanks to Sony’s rebates and price cuts. If you think this is normal for consumer electronics, compare Sony’s depreciation to that of Canon’s or Nikon’s.

Canon 5DII
The 5D Mark II has kept its value incredibly well over its 7 year lifespan, an eon for electronics.

The above graph plots the depreciation of the legendary Canon 5D Mark II, a camera equally ground-breaking and historic as the A7 or A7R since it was the first FF camera with 1080p video recording. Canon’s upper-mid-ranged 5D series typically have a 3 year product cycle, so even a 7 year old 5D Mark II can still fetch nearly $1000 on the used market today.

Used Full Frame Camera Depreciation
Based on data from camelcamelcamel.com. Click on the links for detailed numbers: Sony A7, Sony A7R, Canon 5DII, Canon 5DIII, Nikon D810.

You can argue that the late 2000s were a different time, and DSLRs and cameras in general haven’t been overwhelmed by smart phones then as they have recently. But if you compare newer cameras like the 5D Mark III and the Nikon D810‘s first 20 month performance, they both keep significantly higher residual values than either the A7 or A7R. Bottom line: Wait until Christmas and you’ll likely get a healthy $200 rebate on the A7RII. Better yet, wait until next year for a used copy for hundreds less. 

Conclusions

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So at the end of the day, with $3,200 in hand, would you buy a Sony A7RII when it comes out on August 30? Would I?

Yes, yes I would. This verdict is an easier one than our previous choice between an A7 and a A7II because of the sheer amount of upgrades to the A7RII.

The rational person probably wouldn’t spend their hard earned money on a new $3,200 Sony camera right away. They would wait until the rebates kick in. But if I was more rational, I probably wouldn’t have bought an A7 when it first came out either.

The most interesting choice here, will be for current the Canon and Nikon shooters. Here’s this small, lightweight electronic device that can do as much, and even more, than your behemoth D810 or 5DIII. What’s left stopping DSLR users from switching to mirrorless? Well that’s for a later article.


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