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
Paired with one of the best Zeiss primes available for the E-mount system, the A7 II resolves a comparable level of detail to the original A7 – not surprising when you take into consideration that it shares the same 24-million-pixel full frame sensor.
Unlike the A7R is Sony’s Alpha lineup, the A7 sticks with a more conversional sensor design that sees the inclusion of an optical low pass filter to reduce and control the effects of aliasing. Looking at both Raw and JPEG files, the A7 performs well compared alongside comparable files from other 24-million pixel full frame DSLRs such as the Nikon D750 and as to be expected from a full-frame chip noise is handled well by the sensor when more is asked of it at higher sensitivities.
To be more precise, ISO 3200 and 6400 are both usable and despite luminance noise being evident at these settings it has a fine grain structure, with chroma noise being controlled very well indeed. Our dynamic range results are up there as some of the best we’ve ever recorded by a full frame sensor, fractionally higher than the A7R and competing full frame DSLRs. Users can therefore expect to pull back a good amount of shadow and highlight detail from Raw files provided they shoot below ISO 3200, beyond which the impressive dynamic range figures begin to drop off.
At its lowest native sensitivity setting, our measured dynamic range is an outstandingly high 13.37EV at ISO 100, putting it ahead on some of its full frame rivals such as the Nikon D750 and Nikon D810 that produced 12.7EV at the same sensitivity in the past. Our results remained above 12EV right up to ISO 800 beyond which they dropped slightly at ISO 1600 to 11.59EV and down to 9.72 EV at ISO 3200. Shadow tones do become noisier at ISO 6400 and above, indicating that detail in dark areas of an image will be increasingly lost to noise.
A close study of the A7 II’s Raw files revealed it delivers 3200l/ph at ISO 100 – an identical level of detail as recorded by the A7. This figure was recorded with the incredibly sharp Sony FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* prime lens attached. Detail holds up very well indeed through the lower ISO sensitivities too and it’s only when ISO 800 is reached that it begins to drop to 3000l/ph. Users can expect detail to hold up particularly well at ISO 6400 (2800l/ph), with an outcome of 2400l/ph at its maximum sensitivity ceiling (ISO 25,600).
The A7 II excels when it comes to noise performance. Inspecting our Raw files at 100% revealed it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between ISO 100 and ISO 1600, other than the latter resolves fractionally less detail. Luminance noise only really starts to appear at ISO 3200, yet it’s so fine at this setting and ISO 6400 that it’s not of concern and can be easily addressed by applying noise reduction in post. Chroma noise doesn’t become a factor until ISO 25,600 is reached, and even then it’s by no means severe or unsightly. Colours between ISO 100 and 12,800 remain vivid and punchy too, with the saturation only dropping ever so slightly when ISO 25,600 is dialed in. As for JPEGs, the in-camera noise reduction the A7 II applies at high ISO is effective up to ISO 3200 without destroying detail, but users should expect a faint warm tinge to their JPEGs above ISO 12,800.