At the time of its release, the A7 was overshadowed somewhat by Sony’s flagship CSC, the A7R. Michael Topham finds out whether its successor, the A7 II is significantly better and improves on the A7’s aesthetics and its handling quirks

Product Overview

Overall rating:

Sony Alpha 7 II

Features:
Build/Handling:
Metering:
Autofocus:
AWB Colour:
Dynamic Range:
LCD viewfinder:

Pros:

  • - Becomes the first full-frame CSC to feature 5-axis in-camera image stabilisation
  • - Inherits the excellent OLED electronic viewfinder from the Alpha 7
  • - Redesigned handgrip and control layout enhances operation and handling

Cons:

  • - Loud shutter with no dampening or silent shooting mode available
  • - Control wheel at the rear is rather small and fiddly to use
  • - Movie-record button could be better positioned for videographers

Product:

Sony Alpha 7 II Review

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£1,500.00

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Performance

Sony Alpha 7 II Sample Image 15

See more sample images from the Sony Alpha 7 II in our gallery

Intrigued to find out how well the new 5-axis image stabilisation system performed, I tested the A7 II with both the optical SteadyShot image stabilised (OSS) FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* lens and non stabilised FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* prime lens. When an E-mount lens with optical stabilisation is mounted, such as the 24-70mm, the in-body 5-axis system works in tandem with the lens’s OSS system, with the sensor correcting for rotational and translational movements, leaving angular movements to be compensated by the in-lens stabilisation.

In practice what this allowed me to do is to shoot handheld as slow as 1/10sec and achieve sharp shots that would otherwise be hard to record without the aid of a tripod. Taking the test further, I experimented by finding out just how slow I could go, and if you’re anything like me and have a steady hand it’s possible to achieve acceptable, albeit not pin sharp results, with a shutter speed as slow as 1/4sec.

I must admit I had the EVF braced up against my eye for additional support, but nevertheless the incredibly effective image stabilisation system enabled me to shoot some of the sharpest handheld shots using the slowest shutter speeds I ever have. The effect of the image stabilisation is so powerful that it’s visible on the rear LCD or through the viewfinder when you’re shooting, meaning you’ll clearly know when it’s switched on or off.

For convenience I found myself customising SteadyShot to the C2 button on the top plate for quick access. What’s more, the IS system helps to transform handheld video footage; giving it the sense the camera was attached to a Steadicam stabiliser device to create the seamless and smooth slow panning footage it’s capable of.

While the A7 II might not be built for outright speed, the camera’s processor and buffer is more than capable of keeping up with its continuous speed demands. Loaded with a pro-spec Lexar Professional 2000x 64GB SDXC UHS-II card, the A7 II rattled out 25 frames at 5fps before slowing, taking 18secs to write the data to the card. Switching the format to Raw, 27 frames were rattled off at the same speed, which compares to 60 frames when the file format was set to Extra Fine JPEG and 210 frames set to Fine JPEG.

Sony Alpha 7 II Sample Image 12

Overall, the general performance of A7 II is good, though it’s certainly not a discreet shooter. Fire the shutter and you quickly realise how loud it is to shoot with. With no dampening on silent shooting mode it’s less than ideal if you like to operate quietly. While I found it hard to fault the improved White Magic screen at the rear that delivers a highly impressive brightness and portrays excellent detail, I found the colours produced by the EVF rather muted and lacking in saturation compared to the scene as viewed by the eye and captured by the sensor. It goes without saying it’s a great EVF in the way it provides a fast refresh rate and a high 0.71x magnification and though I found increasing the viewfinder brightness helps slightly, the accuracy of its colour could be improved to make it slightly more faithful.

On the subject of the viewfinder, the new softer eyecup the A7 II sports helps to cushion it against the eye with improved comfort as the result – particularly noticeable if you’re a wearer of glasses.

Autofocus

When we reviewed the A7 it delivered a prompt autofocus acquirement and the same can be said for the A7 II. It’s hard to tell just how effective the updates to the AF algorithms are when you first pick up the camera as it locks onto stationary subjects with barely any fuss, even when the light levels drop. If you’re one for finding yourself shooting in complete darkness, there’s always the bright AF illuminator that can shed a beam of light on what’s in front of you.

The changes to the Lock-On AF function appear to have improved things slightly thanks to the updates to the motion detection algorithms, but it did show occasional signs of difficulty tracking a fast downhill cyclist and cars through the frame at high speed. It’s fair to say the camera is at its happiest when it’s predicting slower subjects across the frame that aren’t erratic or fast in their behavior. There’s Wide, Zone and Centre AF modes, however Flexible Spot was most commonly used AF mode for setting the AF target precisely over my subject.

By setting the button within the control wheel to Focus Area it allowed for instantaneous positioning of the AF point using the control dials with a double click. As for AF point size and coverage, there are three AF point sizes to choose from, with coverage getting you within an AF point of the top and sides of the frame.

Sony Alpha 7 II Sample Image 18

See more sample images from the Sony Alpha 7 II in our gallery

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Build and Handling
  3. 3. Performance
  4. 4. Image Quality
  5. 5. Verdict
  6. 6. Hands-on First Look
Page 3 of 6 - Show Full List
  • Jeremy

    Hi there,
    Have had a Sony A7 MkII for about 6 weeks now. Pictures are great but battery life is awful even in aircraft mode. Feed back from Sony is no plans for an upgraded battery. Have bought a Hahnel and Duracell equivalents and plan to test how they compare to Sony original for time in use. One other minor irritation encountered by other A7 users is that the rubber eye piece becomes dislodged brushing up against clothing. Sony advise that gluing this to its slide on mount is not a recommended practice. Chocolate Tea pot on feed back from Sony so far.
    Jeremy

  • Michael Topham

    Hi Peter,

    The point you make about the A7 II’s weather resistance is an interesting one. Just to clarify, the A7 II has the same sealing qualities as the other cameras in the a7-series. What this means is that there are seals against dust and moisture and these seals are found around the buttons, dials, inputs/outputs etc. You’re right in saying Sony don’t officially say the camera is ‘Weather Sealed’ and I sincerely apologise if you felt this point in the review was misleading. I can however say that after using the A7 II in very light rain, albeit for only 30-45 minutes or so, our review sample didn’t have any issues. Regards, Michael

  • Peter Kelly

    How come my comment from a different article is here?

    That said, the point I made about AF is still valid, but I have another observation or, should I say, correction.

    You have put “also weather sealed” in the review. This is completely untrue and Sony have removed any reference to weather sealing from their literature. Should you suffer a fault caused by a little drizzle you will find yourself with a large repair bill because Sony will not honour the warranty under such cases.

    They have clarified their original claim about sealing to mean that the camera will only resist minor condensation when going between different environment temperatures. Now they only say “built to withstand the rigors of shooting in the field”, so even damp isn’t mentioned!

    I suggest that you confirm this and make an appropriate change to your article.

  • Peter Kelly

    I understand Sony’s reasoning, but I’m surprised by the relative quiet from existing A7 owners regarding the AF speed.

    In that you say the sensor is the same and the processor is the same, but only the algorithm is different to improve performance. Surely that would mean all it would take for the existing A7 to match the new AF speed and performance is a firmware update?

    In the past, Sony owners have always ranted about the lack of any firmware updates to address ‘niggles’ and Sony release very few, so I’m quite surprised there hasn’t been a torrent of demands for this algorithm to be made available. Perhaps it will, in a year or two…LOL