The Sony Alpha 7R was revolutionary at the time of its release and delivered outstanding image quality in a compact form. Michael Topham finds out if the Sony Alpha 7R II is a significantly improved successor
Sony Alpha 7R II Review – Performance
The Alpha 7R was criticised in a few areas of its performance, so it’s good to see Sony addressing and improving the Alpha 7R II in this regard. Though the Alpha 7R’s contrast detection system seemed perfectly adequate at the time and has been issued with firmware updates since, in low light – and when paired with other lenses via compatible adapters – it’s noticeable that it doesn’t provide the fastest autofocus acquisition speeds by today’s standards.
Setting up the Alpha 7R alongside the Alpha 7R II and running a series of side-by-side comparison tests in both high contrast and low-light conditions, revealed the new fast-hybrid AF system is a radical improvement on the Alpha 7R’s contrast-detect system. Though the Alpha 7R II locked on to subjects at a similar speed to the Alpha 7R in high-contrast conditions, it’s when the light levels drop that you really appreciate how much faster and more responsive the Alpha 7R II’s focusing system really is. Subjected to a low-light interior scene with the AF illuminator switched off on both cameras, there was no contest. While the Alpha 7R took some time to acquire focus on a central subject, the Alpha 7R II acquired focus in a fraction of a second.
I found similar results when I attached a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM lens to both cameras, using the Canon EF to E-mount Mark III Metabones adapter that Sony provided for review. Compared to the original Alpha 7R that demonstrated hesitation at locking onto distant subjects, the Alpha 7R II locked onto the same subjects instantly with barely any fuss. The developments that have been made to Alpha 7R II’s autofocus performance make it a much more compelling choice for those wishing to use their existing lenses by mounting them via an adapter – including Sony users who may own Sony A-mount lenses and want to attach them via the LA-EA3 mount adapter (£129).
I tested the Alpha 7R II with both the stabilised Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS lens and the non-stabilsed Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA prime. When E-mount lenses with optical stabilisation are mounted (such as the 24-70mm) the in-body 5-axis system teams up with the OSS system of the lens, with the sensor correcting for rotational and translational movements, leaving angular movements to be compensated for by the lens’s stabilisation. With the electronic front curtain shutter and SteadyShot deployed I found it possible to shoot pin-sharp 42.4MP images handheld as slow as 1/20sec. Much like I did when I reviewed the Alpha 7 II, I found myself customising SteadyShot to the C2 button on the top-plate for quick-access and I found it useful to set up silent shooting to the C1 button beside it.
Another area of improvement to the performance is the aforementioned shutter. Even with the Alpha 7R II’s electronic front curtain switched off, the shutter is slightly quieter than the Alpha 7R. When the 7R II is switched on, the loud slap you get from the Alpha 7R is no longer there, and it’s a much less obtrusive camera to use when you’d like to work discreetly. Of course there’s the silent shooting mode too, which uses the electronic shutter. However, it doesn’t feature Sony’s new anti-distortion shutter technology, which was recently outfitted on the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 IV and RX10 II to minimise the effects of rolling shutter and allow both to shoot as fast as 1/32,000sec.