This isn’t a typical camera review of the A7R2 though, it’s more like a journey on how I got here. You see, I’ve been watching the Sony mirrorless system for a while now but I couldn’t bring myself to take the jump, I use the Canon 5D Mk III and L Series lenses for my pro line of work and use the Fuji X-Pro 1 for my street and travel photography.
Honestly speaking, I was quite happy with this set up until a couple of months ago when Sony introduced the A7RII with its 42 megapixel BSI sensor, a claimed 14 stops of dynamic range and super high ISO sensitivity and 5 Axis IS, they even packed in 4K recording natively!
Whenever people asked me if I was to start again, which system would I jump in to, I’d always tell them the Sony FE System but because of my current Gear Acquisition Syndrome, I was tethered to Canon and Fuji but what if there was this mythical camera that allowed me to merge these two styles of photography?
Best of Both Worlds
With the A7RII I could use one camera for my professional line of photography one day and configure it for street photography the next. The 5D Mk III has got an amazing build quality but it became too big to carry around, even with the vertical grip taken out, plus it looks way too expensive if I found myself on the wrong side of the tracks.
The Fuji X-Pro 1 produces amazing image quality when matched with stellar X-Series Primes such as the 35mm f1.4 and the interface proves this system to be a photographer’s camera. The retro look, the dials and manual control allow you to have a magical experience but the camera is too slow for my event work and deep down inside I really wished the sensor on this system would be full frame instead of APS-C.
Because the A7R Mk II is the second generation of A7 cameras, they’ve improved the ergonomics of the body, it feels substantial to hold and with the added grip, allows you to hold the camera with all four fingers. Unfortunately the vertical hand grip just doesn’t feel as solid and when holding the camera in portrait mode, the fingers almost feel out of place as the sharp handle pinches the inside part of the fingers.
Steady Hands Now Even Steadier
Along with the redesigned body the next big thing to come out for the second gen A7R is its in body stabilisation. This was one of the BIG reasons to jump ship, it allowed me to use non IS lenses and all of a sudden they became stabilised. My beautiful 100mm Zeiss Makro, stabilised, I can shoot a 50th of a second while maintaining consistently sharp images. The 24-70mm f2.8 SII lens is one of the reasons why I haven’t completely jumped ship and there has been rumours of a more expensive IS version coming out but now, it’s stabilised thanks to the A7RII. When shooting travel photography, having a tripod for longer exposure is no longer a necessity.
As a DSLR user, I’ve always loved looking through the OVF, it gave me an accurate view of my frame in real time, the EVF on my X-Pro 1 was laggy, especially at night but the new generation Mirrorless cameras have a fast response rate and the resolution on the A7RII EVF is definitely usable and versatile, one of the great advantages is when shooting in manual focus mode, I can now switch on peaking and even punch in on the frame to my focus spot at 100% to determine focus, this works amazingly well on my Zeiss 100mm as it’s a fast manual lens at f2, no more focusing by eye.
Resolution To The Eyeballs
When people hear about the resolution on the A7RII and the new 5DS/R, they say “we’ll never print to that resolution” for me though is the ability to crop in, especially when I’m in a frantic pace such as a wedding where there are a lot of people around, to punch in and just grab the wedding couple will give me so much more options. From the 35mm Zeiss I’ve managed to get a punch in on the boat with out losing too much quality.
Legacy System Lenses
The Metabones is an expensive smart adapter at $700 locally but I needed peace of mind that it could just work unlike the Comlite adapter which can transfer meta and aperture control but struggles with focusing in low light, I decided to buy it from a store here incase there is failure so I can return it ASAP. Reports from A7II and first gen A7 users is that the adapters were unusable due to their lack of focusing so I’m pretty happy that Sony has addressed this issue with the A7RII.
It’s lightning quick when using the Series 2 of the 24-70mm f2.8 but be warned, it won’t magically work on all your EF Lenses, especially anything prior to 2008 will give you a hard time, my 70-200mm f2.8 IS struggles with this combination and will hunt for focus and will eventually get it up to 135mm but when shooting past that, it would be quicker to manually focus.
New Sensor Design
One of the big reasons why I chose the A7RII over the 5DS/R was not because of the resolution but of the Dynamic Range and it’s ability to capture clean images at high ISO.
Here are samples that I’ve shot at 4 stops over and pushed up, properly exposed and then 4 stops over and pulled down. The detail in the shadows are usable, even at 3 stops.
When people shoot ISO tests, they usually shoot in a controlled lighting environment, to be honest, I’ll never shoot that way and so I’ll need to test out the high ISO in real situations with dark backgrounds and see how the noise settle over the image, as you can see, it’s quite impressive. Now compare that with the 5D Mk III as the 5DS has comparable latitude and doesn’t exceed its dynamic range.
So after having the Sony A7RII for a month, I must say, I’ve been converted. Sure there are some things that need to be addressed with this camera and with the A7 system such as the battery life, let’s be honest, it is disappointing. I’ve shot weddings with the Canon 5D Mk III for the whole day and yet after 2,000 or so images, the battery life would barely get past half way. As a time-lapse photographer, this bothers me but there is a work around, when I first unboxed the A7RII, the second charger was actually a USB adapter charger, this might not sound like a big deal but I can now buy USB power bricks and take them with me when I trek, I could attach them to my rig and charge when needed.
When switching over from another system, the Sony camera interface can be quite overwhelming, I was used to a certain way with the Canon 5D Mk III but after much customising, I was able to replicate the dials on the A7RII to the 5D Mk III. Could you imagine a run and gun situation where you switch cameras and instead of opening up, you stop down because the dials are around the wrong way.
To me though personally, the Fuji X-Pro 1 still gave me the best user experience in terms of handling, I could turn the aperture on the lens and adjust the dials of the shutter on the body but still once you get used to the Sony, it all starts working out.
Lastly, to me the Sony A7RII is more than a camera, it’s more like a super computer with a monstrous sensor, you can see the good and bad in that I guess, it definitely has less soul than a Fuji but has got more features than both of my cameras combined. With built-in wifi and access to the Play Memories app store, the connectivity of this camera is incredible. I still don’t understand why the 5DS doesn’t have wifi, it is 2015!
Shooting with apps such as touchless shutter, long exposure and time-lapse allows you to do it all in camera and bypass the computer. You can connect to your smart phone or computer for quick uploads and distribution and this to me is a big feature, accessing services like Instagram, Facebook, Flickr or VSCO is a major bonus for people that just don’t have the time to import photos on their computer.
- Battery Life
- Menu System
- User Interface
- Improved Ergonomics but pinky finger still feels orphaned from the grip
- Wish it had a joystick like the 5D Mk III to position focus points
- A second SD slot would be nice but not a deal breaker
- Slow start up (buggy and sometimes requires time to think)
- Dynamic Range
- Great ISO
- Backside Illumination Sensor
- Image Stabilisation
- 4K Video Recording (Full Frame and S35mm Mode)
- Versatile Electronic View Finder with peaking and zoom function
- Apps and Playmemories community
- Upgraded Phase and Contrast Focus System
So there you have it, a super camera with super computer features having a super price tag. In the end, you really need to think about what type of photography you do and whether you are falling for the hype or honestly need such features, best thing is to hire one of these out and check for yourself.