STEADY AS SHE GOES
Sony A7 II
The A7 was a groundbreaking camera in that it was the first mirrorless system camera to feature a full-frame sensor. A solid camera that proved the concept was feasible, it laid the groundwork for the A7R and later on, the A7S. Its direct successor, the new A7 II has finally been released and Sony again extends the bar by making it the first full-frame mirrorless camera to feature 5-axis in-camera image stabilization. This feature was previously only available in flagship Olympus OM-D series cameras. With its introduction, the A7 II can now use just about any lens, even older manual lenses via adapters and still retain full image stabilization, which Sony claims an equivalent to 4.5 stops of correction.
The A7 II comes just about a year after the launch of the A7, and while the overall design is largely similar, the new body is slightly wider and taller, and features an improved layout that seems to have taken into account a lot of the grouses with the original design. The buttons on the back of the camera are slightly larger now, making them easier to activate; the shutter button is also larger, and more crucially has been shifted further to the front, making it easier to reach for. Everything is just better spaced, with the dials feeling more sensibly sized now, making the camera more comfortable to use overall. Even so, it is still one of the most compact full-frame ILCs around.
The menu system hasn’t changed though, with the exception of a few added movie options as the A7 II now supports capture up to 1,920 x 1,080 (60p) at a maximum bit-rate of 28Mbps in AVCHD and XAVC-S.
While it appears that the autofocus system is also largely the same – with the same layout that has 117 phase detection points and 25 contrast detection points – Sony claims that the A7 II has improved autofocus algorithms resulting in up to
30% faster AF performance compared to the original A7. Our own testing shows this to be a pretty accurate estimation, and certainly puts it on par with some of the other relatively newer DSLRs like the Nikon D750.
More options for customization is something Sony has made an effort to implement here, as no less than 56 functions can be assigned to a total of ten programmable buttons, making it easier for you to set the camera up just the way you want it.
The overall experience of shooting with the A7 II doesn’t change from the original – stick to shorter lenses and you’ll be perfectly comfortable. Using longer telephoto lenses still feels a little unbalanced, but we do think it’s a lot better with the new handgrip – the added girth of the new body design gives you more to hold on to than before, and that really makes quite the difference. Another thing we found was that the EVF can be a little too dark at times, but that’s an easy fix – just go into the menus and set brightness manually according to the environment.
As might be expected, the images from the A7 II do not vary too much from the original, though we do find that it handles noise slightly better. We’d readily print images at ISO 12,800 with this camera after a bit of sharpening in post, but we do find that the white is notably less neutral.
We hardly found ourselves needing to go slower than 1/60s outdoors. Even indoors in our labs, we managed perfectly sharp images handheld at a manageable 1/13s, at about the 35mm setting. The 5-axis IS doesn’t seem to be a major factor unless you’re really unsteady or use a lot of manual lenses.
In terms of effective resolution, the A7 II doesn’t change much from the original, which is to say there’s all the detail you would expect from a 24-megapixel camera. The bigger difference comes at the higher ISO settings, where the improved algorithms of the new model handle the color noise slightly better. Images are noticeably biased towards warm tones though, so you’ll get nice rosy tones outdoors, but a bit too much warmth under tungsten lighting.
Is the difference enough to justify an upgrade if you already have any of the A7 series? Probably not. But if you’re in the market for a full-frame camera or shoot in low light a lot, we’d definitely recommend you take a look at the A7 II.
TESTED & RATED