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
Sony Alpha 7 II Review – At a Glance
- 24-million-pixel, full frame CMOS sensor
- 1200-zone metering system
- ISO 50-25,600 sensitivity range
- 0.5inch, 2.4-million-dot EVF
- 117 AF points (phase-detection AF) 25 AF points (Contrast-Detect AF)
- 3in, 1,228k-dot LCD screen
- £1599 (body only)
When we reviewed the original Sony A7 it left a number of lasting impressions. Not only was it seen as a game changer in the way it managed to shoehorn a full-frame sensor inside a such a compact body, the superb image quality it produced alongside its comprehensive specification made it stand out as an attractive proposition for those seeking a lighter and more compact substitute to a heavy and bulky DSLR.
As is often the case however, a few underlying issues destined there would always be areas for improvement. The limited number of full-frame E-mount lenses available at the time was the main drawback for those tempted by switching systems, not to mention its handling quirks and design, which failed to have the same aesthetic qualities that we’ve seen from the likes of Fujifilm and Olympus.
A year on and Sony looks to improve where the A7 left off by launching the A7 II, which doesn’t directly replace the previous model in the lineup, but sits alongside it as an upgraded option. The question I’m out to answer is whether Sony have succeeded at making the Alpha 7 II a better full frame proposition for photographers looking to downsize and shed weight without having to make any sacrifices when it comes to image quality, performance and handling?
Sony Alpha 7 II Review – Features
The headline feature of the A7 II is its new 5-axis in-body image stabilisation system, which takes on an entirely different approach to the type of IS system we’ve seen in Sony Alpha mount cameras before. It shares similarities to Olympus’s in-camera stabilisation found in the OM-D E-M5 and E-M1, however Sony claims the A7 II’s system is an entirely new and unrelated, despite the fact the two companies entered a technology sharing partnership in 2012.
The benefit of this advanced IS system means that as well as being able to compensate for the familiar pitch and yaw movements, whereby the lens rotates upwards and downwards, or from side-to-side, the A7’s 5-axis system adds in corrections for movements of the camera vertically and sideways, with the fifth axis corresponding the rotational correction around the lens axis, which is crucial for movie shooting or long exposures. It’s also something in-lens optical stabilisation systems simply can’t rectify.
The outcome of employing this IS system is to allow users to use shutter speeds 4.5 stops slower than would otherwise be possible and open up the opportunity for image stabilisation to be used with any lens mounted to the camera – whether it be a zoom with optical stabilisation or a prime lens without.
Stabilisation aside, the 24.3-million-pixel CMOS sensor and Bionz X processor are carried across from the A7, meaning it has the same ISO range of 100-25,600, which can be expanded to as low as ISO 50 when required. Though the hybrid AF system appears the same on paper with an array of 117 phase-detection and 25 contrast-detection focus points, the AF algorithms have been updated to make it 30% faster and ensure it’s more reliable when it comes to tracking moving subjects.
It appears that the A7 II makes use of the AF technology from the A6000, with all the phase-detection areas continuously feeding back distance information to the processor to ensure it’s not affected by foreground objects that could come between the camera and the subject, ignoring them instead of attempting to refocus.
Other similarities to the A7 are its 5fps maximum burst rate and 0.5-inch 2.4-million-dot OLED EVF. In addition there’s a 3in, 1228k-dot tilt-angle screen at the rear (not the touchscreen type) an anti-dust mechanism to help vibrate dust particles adhering to the optical filter, not forgetting Wi-fi and NFC connectivity for hassle-free wireless image transfer to Android or iOS mobile devices using Sony’s Play Memories app.
Videographers haven’t been forgotten about either. There’s now support for the XACV S codec that allows a bit-rate of 50Mbps, the addition of S-Log 2 gamma to retain the maximum dynamic range for easier colour grading in post-production, as well as the option to record a shareable MP4 file at the same time as full resolution AVCHD or XACV S movies are recorded. All these features combined with focus peaking, audio monitoring and vast customisation control adds up to make it a highly tempting proposition for the enthusiast photographer it’s clearly well catered for.