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: Introduction
At a glance:
- 42.2MP full-frame Exmor R CMOS sensor
- 0.5in 2.4-million-dot OLED EVF
- ISO 100-25,600 (standard), 50-102,400 (expanded)
- 399 phase-detection AF points
- 5fps continuous shooting
- 4K video (100Mbps)
- £2,599 body only
The last time I laid hands on a Sony Alpha 7R was just after its launch, and at the time I remember holding onto what felt like something truly special. The Alpha 7R stood out from all other cameras for a number of reasons. Not only did it feature the highest resolution sensor in the history of Sony’s Alpha lineup, it was successful at squeezing its full-frame sensor behind the E-mount and into a body that’s a fraction of the size and weight of many DSLRs. The incredible level of detail recorded by its 36-million-pixel sensor put the Alpha 7R on a par with its high-resolution DSLR rivals, however the limited number of full-frame E-mount lenses available back then – not forgetting a few handling and operational quirks – were factors that put some photographers off the thought of trading in their kit and switching systems.
Keen to iron out the criticisms of the original Alpha 7R, Sony has launched the Alpha 7R II. Though its styling and design may appear similar, there’s a lot more than meets the eye and it’s an entirely new offering that introduces innovative technology and many exciting features. Is this finally the full frame camera we’ve all been waiting for?
Sony Alpha 7R II Review: Features
With so much to talk about, it’s difficult to know where to start, so let’s first focus our attention on the Alpha 7R II’s new sensor – which is the world’s first back-illuminated full-frame chip with a resolution of 42.4-million-pixels. The new Exmor R CMOS sensor has never been used before in any other camera and the jump up from the Alpha 7R’s 36.4-million-pixels sees the 7R II edge closer to the 50.6-million pixel resolution offered by the Canon EOS 5DS and 5DS R. The benefit of the sensor’s back-illuminated structure is designed to enhance the Alpha 7R II’s light-gathering capabilities, which is reflected in its sensitivity range. Unlike the original Alpha 7R that could shoot between ISO 50-25,600, the Alpha 7R II now covers ISO 100-25,600, which can be expanded to ISO 50-102,400.
To handle the vast volume of data created by the 42.4MP sensor, the Alpha 7R II is equipped with Sony’s high-speed Bionz X image processor – the same engine as used within the Alpha 7R. It allows the camera to shoot continuously at up to five frames per second, which despite not being rapid by continuous shooting terms, matches the continuous burst rate offered by both the Nikon D810 and Canon’s EOS 5DS/5DSR models.
For those who don’t want to get bogged down by shooting 42.4MP images, Sony gives users the option to reduce the image size to 18MP or 11MP. It should be noted though, that these image sizes only apply to the JPEG file format and there’s no option to select a smaller file size when shooting in the raw format, unlike some DSLRs. For those who shoot raw, the Alpha 7R II’s raw files typically weigh in between 43-44MB per image.
Rather than relying upon a contrast-detection system for focusing like the Alpha 7R, the Alpha 7R II introduces a fast-hybrid AF system that’s comprised of 399 phase-detection and 25 contrast-detection focus points. It’s superior to the Sony Alpha 7 II’s hybrid AF system and covers up to 45% of the image area. With this I expect to see a noticeable improvement in acquisition speed compared to the Alpha 7R, both with the attachment of full-frame E-mount lenses and other manufacturers’ lenses, which I’ll touch on shortly.
Another feature that we could foresee making its way into the Alpha 7R II was the 5-axis, in-body image stabilisation system that made its debut in the Alpha 7 II. This advanced technology has the ability to not only compensate for the familiar pitch and yaw movements, but also corrects for movements of the camera vertically and sideways. The fifth axis corresponds to the rotational correction around the lens axis – crucial for shooting movies and ensuring high-resolution handheld images remain sharp. The benefit of having this new stabilisation system on the Alpha 7R II is to allow the use of shutter speeds 4.5 stops slower than would otherwise be possible. However, it also opens up the possibility of shooting stabilised images no matter what lens is mounted – be it a zoom with optical stabilisation built-in or a prime lens without.
And the new features don’t end here. The Alpha 7R II introduces a reduced-vibration shutter that’s tested to 500,000 cycles and is designed to cut mechanical front and rear curtain vibration by up to 50% compared to the 7R. The electronic front curtain shutter is switched on from the main menu and a silent shooting mode is found just above it. Switching the latter on disengages the electronic front curtain shutter and engages the Alpha 7R II’s electronic shutter. Though this doesn’t provide users with the advantage of using any faster shutter speeds (operating up to 1/8,000sec like the mechanical shutter) it is completely silent and could be useful for those who like to shoot discreetly. Those who use the silent shooting mode will want to be wary of the rolling shutter phenomenon though, whereby fast moving subjects can appear skewed or distorted.
Elsewhere, there’s a 0.5in, 2.4-million-dot OLED EVF that improves upon the Alpha 7R by featuring a double-sided aspherical lens that delivers a higher 0.78x magnification. Below it you’ll find the same 3in, 1.23-million-dot display, which doesn’t feature touch functionality, but is the tilt-angle variety. Wi-Fi connectivity and NFC for instant pairing to compatible devices is supported, there’s an anti-dust mechanism that can be used to vibrate any dust particles adhering to the sensor and though there’s no built-in flash, the hotshoe accepts Sony flash units as well as third-party alternatives. Also supplied in the box of contents are two NP-FW50 batteries, which are good for around 300 shots each.