I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the A7RII (ICLE-7RM2) for a while now. I pre-ordered it and received it about 2 weeks ago now. Whilst I have not had a chance to test everything, I have read a lot of the reviews on the net, and agree with most of the non-biased ones. The aim of my review is to compare the A7R and A7RII from my own work flow perspective, hopefully a real-life review of my experiences over the last few weeks, and not to do a 40 page rigorous technical review. I have to say I have only recorded one video on 4k in the last 2 weeks so sorry for the omission of any 4K reviews. This is something I wish to add to the next part of the review.
3 notable fair broad reviews (please read this first):
I think we have all heard of the specs months before they were released but the main upgrades from the A7R of note would be IBIS (In-body Image stabilisation), 42.4mp, improved ergonomics, silent and electronic shuttering, better AF with 3rd party lenses esp. Canon and 4K video.
I think there are quite a few major differences here. The grip is bigger and much more comfortable and having switched the shutter to the front feels much more like a DSLR. I still feel that if you have yeti hands this is might still feel small and a bit cramped but for my little hands its very comfortable. The new shutter on power lock is better, easier to flick with your index finger and less likely to be knocked on or off in your back. Also you get an extra custom button (4 in total) as the shutter moving has left more space. The only thing I find it that the locking mode dial is more fiddley. I know that this is to prevent it shifting in your bag or being accidentally knocked, but it means I have to either use my left hand to push and twist of move my right had just to move the mode dial. For landscaping, however, it’s not really an issue as it stays in M most of the time.
A major improvement, which came with the A7II, is the new one-piece lens mount. As most of use has experienced lens wobble, perhaps image shake and light bleeds it nice to see the new solid metal front ring. No more faffing about retrofitting the Fotodiox Touch E-mount. After 2 weeks I can say it is v solid with no issues. A better fit than my Tough E-Mount too which has a tiny bit of play in it.
The video button is as fiddley as before, being so recessed, but you can remap this to a custom button if you are doing a lot of video work. The weight of the body has also increased as has the length and width. This was to accommodate the IBIS system like on the A7II but I feel to me this is a welcome bit of weight. The A7R did feel a bit flimsy and light with a tonne of lenses on it (625g vs 465g). The new paint job being flecked matted paint is also nice, and for no reason at all, seems a bit more professional. With the extra depth the menu and C3 buttons are at an angle on the front panel, which improves on the sl cramped buttons before.
The screen is slightly more proud of the body on the A7RII but still clicks in and articulates the same. The A7II screen protectors fit too on the A7RII.
The LCD is very similar – bright in the sun and good colours and contrasts as was the original. The EVF I feel is an improvement. The old EVF, in comparison to my A6000, was very good but this, with the higher DPI is a step up and when out night shooting I felt I could actually see in the dark rather than blackness of the old EVF/LCD. The rest of the outside I don’t think is noteworthy. The only issue I have really is the USB 2.0? Why? I wonder if is was the size of the plug as it’s double with width? TBH It’s not an issue for me as all of mine go into the computers SD card slot.
OK that’s the physical differences but what about using it. We all hear about wonderful specs but do they really improve on the A7R enough to upgrade?
I won’t go into tonnes of detail on this, you only need to look on you tube etc to see it in action on the many reviews. My impression is that is gives you about 3-4 stops of stabilisation. Thus we don’t normally shoot under 1/60th of a second say at focal lengths of under 100mm? Therefore I did find you can achieve a pretty sharp steady shots at 1/4 to 1/8 of a second with IBIS switched on. I have not yet tried it on a windy day shooting over 100mm for a cropped landscape shoot. Normally I would switch off lens IS on my Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6 USM L off when on a tripod unless very windy but this might be something to investigate to rule in or out when on a tripod. Quite a few people are doing landscape work without a tripod with IBIS, so more to come from that I think.The beauty of IBIS for me is I can use it on any lens. Also I can switch off my lens IS as I do wonder if this uses up more battery power than IBIS? I haven’t tried it with video yet but should dampen small handshakes.
EFCS (Electronic First Curtain Shutter)
This was not available on the A7R and I think this is probably one of the main reasons I, and others, have upgraded. Whilst I didn’t have much issue with the heavy shutter slap vibrations on the A7R at long focals I think in hindsight not all of my blurry images at 250mm were due to the wind. The old A7R mechanical shutter was pretty loud and clunky. It did it’s job but the EFCS and silent shutter modes cure any of these issues and for me when I shoot long focals, it is perfect. I do understand, perhaps for bandwidth issues, with the silent mode (both electronic shutters) the bit rate changes from 11+7 bit to 12 bit. I think for say a wedding or sports photographer this is unlikely to be an issue but for studio and say landscapes I think this is. It maybe something that will be sorted in a future firmware update (as Sony has suggested uncompressed RAW should be) but for now I see no reason to use silent mode in landscaping and the EFCS is ample damping – even without EFCS it’s significantly improved. The one thing that is intriguing is that the shutter is rated at 500,000 shots. If you use silent mode this is not altered I believe. I’m not sure how this number comes to effect with EFCS tough as it’s using 1/2 the actuations?
AF with Canon Lenses
This was one of the main reasons for upgrading. I have tested the Metabones IV (with the most recent firmware V0.41) with my collection of Canon lenses. This was the first thing I did when receiving the camera body to be honest. My initial tests we in my living room in low light. I went through the lenses noting the time to focus and refocus and also the amount of seeking they did compared with the A7R (which was pretty hopeless to be fair).
- Canon 16-35 f/4 L – very fast, little seeking and good AF lock (and accuracy).
- Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6 USM L – very fast, more seeking over longer focals but good AF lock (and accuracy).
- Canon 24-105 f4 L – similar to the 16-35
- Canon 100mm f/2.8 – awful – seeks and no usable timely lock
- Canon 50mm f/1.8 II – awful – seeks and no usable timely lock
- Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM – takes a bit of time to travel through the focus range (which is does on my 6D) but otherwise very fast AF and good accuracy
Brian Smith has a list of Canon lenses and has tested them with the 3 main FE to EF adapters – I might have to have a play with the Viltrox and Fotodiox adapters too perhaps.
I was pretty happy with the AF performance. The faster AF speeds are supposedly down to the A7RII having a faster AF responsiveness due party to the faster data transfer speeds from the chip and thus both the contrast and phase components in the Hybrid system function faster. The bottle neck now being the communication between lens and body via the adapter? Obviously the lenses performed better on my 6D (which isn’t the best at fast AF) but I did feel the AF should be very usable in normal light and is not too bad in very low light either. Any major lag over a comparable native lens is mostly probably to the Metabones. Any lens older than 2006 release doesn’t work with any adapter at present. Even the IV is an ‘old model’ and neither designed specifically for the A7II or the A7RII. So I wonder, as with all of the FE to EF adapters, if this is something that might improve further to become near as fast and possibly more accurate than most DSLR’s. I need to test the AF better in a real word situation but so far I feel is perfectly usable for most things that I do including the occasional event or wedding. The AF with my A6000 kit lens, and the FE55 f/1.8, is as fast as my 6D with Canon lenses on, The A6000 perhaps even faster than the A7RII but very similar and with the different continuous function like eye tracking the use of Zeiss lenses would be much more compelling.
The only thing that is lost with using 3rd party lenses if the AF-C on burst. Trying to track a moving car on fast burst failed with my 70-300 at 250mm after repeated attempts. The other thing you lose using 3rd Party lenses if the ability to use the tracking boxes and eye-tracking etc. At present is this good enough for avid wildlife and sports photographers who need quick tracking/servo AF? I would not think so, is it good enough to take sequential slow-bursts (Slow continuous allows continuous tracking) of these genres? yes I think it probably would.
Noise and Dynamic Range
My other reason for upgrading was better IQ and malleability of the RAWs. Any advantage in dynamic range, if the IQ follows on, in my book, is a good one. The better the DR is the less I have to grad or bracket, Therefore simplifying work flow, storage etc. On a brief inspection of newly released raw files I had the impression that the DR was better and the colour information (no real magenta hues in the shadows like the A7R) was better preserved in the darks when the exposure was pushed. I was also looking at the quality of the noise too. The A7R did suffer a little from aggressive noise reduction when pixel peeping. It looked like a sandy texture. I am happy to see that my observations seem to be true now after owning mine for a few weeks. I wouldn’t say the IQ (including the higher resolution, better dynamic range and noise quality) would be the sole reason to upgrade. It isn’t. I have seen a full test by Tim Parkin on On Landscape, including pushing the RAWs to extremes (link above) so you can read more there but I thought I’d do 2 quick tests. One a normal sunset landscape shot, 2 stops under and pushed over with highlight recovery (like I often do) and also a night shot at ISO 5000 (off ‘native’ ISO like 6400 or 3200) (as the A7RII like the A7s is supposedly ISOless over 640 unlike the A7R).
Here are 2 similarly shot landscapes, 2 stops under-exposed and pushed back up to 1.5 stops over with identical Lightroom adjustments (increased shadows and highlight recovery). Click on the images for higher res. As you can see there is not a lot in it when you down-size to web – there is more detail at 100% on the A7RII as expected but for a standard landscape shot apart from a being able to blow the image up bigger without loss of detail. I focussed mostly for foreground detail.
However when you push the shadows to 3 stops you start to see some benefits in the noise levels and colour detail retention – I admit at 3 stops its subtle but there definitely to my eyes an improvement in shadow noise and colour detail retention.
Although not an extreme push in exposure I think I could push it further and get more out of one image and thus shooting 3 stops to the left means you could get a fairly high dynamic range shot, say a sunrise, into the sun, out of one shot without bracketing and grading if you so wish. Recent tests suggest that dynamic range is estimated to be similar to the A7R, possibly 1/2 stop more say about 14.6 (vs 14.1 on the A7R) but have to wait for the DXOmark’s assessment on that one.
I also did a very quick, perhaps dirty assessment of noise when I did a milky way shot at night on the same Dartmoor Tor. The shots below are screen caps, at 100%, of both the A7R and A7RII shooting at ISO 5000 (to see if there was more of a difference between ‘native and non-native ISO’ from the A7R) for 5 seconds at f/1.8. All NR has been switched off in-camera and in post. Testing has suggested, like the A7s, the sensor after ISO 640 is ISO invariant, thus noise levels, until you reach the extended ISO’s beyond 25,600 (up to 102,400), are the same. None of this is scientific really but I wanted to just replicate what most landscape photographers would be faced with when they got back from a shoot. I guess this is all down to the new Exmor R Back-illuminated structure (BSI) allowing 1 or 2 stops more light sensitivity and thus prob 1 or 2 stops less noise at the same exposure. Not an expert in that field.
I believe the noise is prob 1/2 of that from the A7R2 than the A7R but obviously these are both 100% crops and thus the is more detail in the A7R2 shots as they have not been downsized/resolution adjusted. The final images after stacking came out like this with the A7RII and I was more than happy with the evenings events.
One issue I have found is when you shoot long exposures, especially at higher ISO, is the ‘hot pixel’ issues other people have been reporting. I seem to remember when I first started to use my Canon 5DII and 6D I also have quite a few (going back a few years) and then all of a sudden they disappeared. There are a lot of rumours a muck here. I am not sure on who is correct but as below I am seeing LE white pixels when pushing the shadows, which on a normal’ish landscape shot it’s not an issue. I only noticed it when shooting the night sky. There are mentions, even from Sony, that recording a 20-25min 4k, then changing the date to 4 months in the future, restarting then chaining the date back etc resolves this. I have not tried it yet but it would make sense that it assesses, like other cameras do, the stuck/hot pixels, and maps them over a period of time. I think this is something that will be addressed soon but in the meantime I will try the video trick.
Interestingly this does not show up when using Capture One for Sony on import even with the single pixel NR off, however I did notice that luminance noise, Colour noise and detail are all set to 50 – when you remove this to 0 it looks even worse – the whole image looks noisy. There is a FredMiranda PS action that you can use to remove these that works well for now, at the end of the processing.
This is something that didn’t really concern me. Sure the jump up to approx 42.4mp from 36mp is welcomed but for me, as I don’t very often print big or at high print resolutions, it was a nice addition but not a reason for buying this body. I guess for some professionals the extra mp is more vital. The jump from my 6D’s 20mp to the 36mp was almost double but from 36mp to 42.4mp the extra pixel dimensions is not that great and whilst my lenses can easily cope with 42.4mp I don’t think the detailing is as noticeable as from moving from say a Canon 5D3 to a Canon 5Ds(r) by all accounts (22 to 50!). As I say this was not my reason for upgrading but the added detail you get is not unnoticeable but not really so much it is worth posting a differential shot perhaps? The original images from the A7R were lovely anyway.
I’ve been very surprised that I have not seen any bugs at all yet. No locking up, shut-down and start-up issues. I am also very happy about the addition of the 2,5 or 10 second shutter delay added to the bracketing. This means when I am bracketing a high DR scene I will not have to use a IR remote of wired remote. This bring me back to my 6D work-flow which I enjoyed a lot. The bracketing now allows for 3, 5 and 9 exposures and also 1/3 and 1/2 steps.Start-up and shut-down from battery removal and no-lens attached are very similar. The majority of the menu settings and structure remain the same, for me not quite as intuitive as Canon’s but not really an issue. There is also the inclusion now, of further memory recalls. Although the dial only allows for 2 quick presets (! & 2) there is also a sub-selection in those mode (use of the cursor to select) M1 to M4 giving the A7RII 5 presets. I think this is quite an under rated addition for a camera that is kind of the do it everything well body.
It does come with a slight sigh that Sony still are carrying on with the 11+7 Bit Delta compressed RAW they have in their other cameras like the A7R. Whist I have to say in normal shots, that are not pushed far in post, don’t really suffer, the more contrast you use or the more you mess with the colour sliders etc the more posterisation you get. Thus for just exposure blending from one or multiple shots, which are not overly processed I still don’t think it is really an issue. However the high-dynamic ranged shot when you try to recover highlights etc perhaps too aggressively, you will start to notice these artefacts, and also of hatching n the shadows.
Sony have suggested they will implement a lossless RAW and give us the choice. I expect the lossless RAWs, the lossy being about 40mb, compared with 70mp for the 5Ds, will prob increase the bit rate from the sensor and thus decrease the max frames per second. But for me I don’t think this would be an issue. Reduced artefacts may improve the captured dynamic range a bit and make the most of the excellent sensor as I do feel this is the camera’s limiting factor presently. However in the grand scheme of this I rarely find this an issue and really only at extreme and pixel peeping.
Settings to Avoid in Landscape Photography
I think the main setting are those that reduce IQ. Obviously IBIS and Lens IS should really be switched off when using a tripod. That goes without saying (although I am yet test IBIS on a tripod). The other things to avoid are those, which at present, reduce the images from 11bit + 7 to 12 bit. These include:
- Silent Shooting (Full ECS)
- Long Exposure NR (just capture a separate black frame)
- Continuous Shooting. (Including bracketing continuous shooting) – this is the bad one as it’s v important to me – however when I bracket I exposure blend so….
- Bulb (more than 30 sec. exposure)
So why is Sony doing this? Possibly a legacy thing but I think one think Sony needs to sort out in the A7RII – once we have 14bit I don’t think there would be much for people to moan about?
Yup still pretty short. I did get over 600 bracket shots from my A7R the other day. Taking note to switch the camera off in between compositions. The A7RII has the same battery and now the IBIS the shot count has come down a smidge. I always carry a spare, even with the 6D, so for me nothing has changed in that respect.
On a very positive note though is the A7RII now comes with 2 batteries and a charger, at last, but you can still charge the battery using a micro USB charger in-camera. The best change here though is you can now use the camera when it is re-charging – this you could use a USB external power-source for things like video and time-lapse for instance rather than a retro-fitted battery power interface.
Is this a perfect camera body? No such thing, but is it perfect for ME at present? No, nothing is perfect. However I would say almost perfect. You could say the sky is the limit for resolution, and sure it is, but 42.3mp for me is enough with a bit more cropability if required over the A7R and a bit more detail (which is why I did not by a 5Ds(r).
The dynamic range is similar to the A7R, suffering only slightly when in continuous auto-bracketing, which was present in the A7R as well. I think I will try more and more to shoot single still anyway unless I need the extra DR of extra brackets when time is of the essence. The floor noise is a noticeable improvement and with the extra detail in the darks I can push them more out of one shot I think, prob 1/2 or 1 stop further in both the highlights and the shadows (as I don’t use filters).
The video looks great at 4K and whilst internal recording is great, there have been sl. overheating reports on long records (but at least 1 hour) but also it is compressed. I guess if you are serious you would use an external recorder where possible? I need to explore this area a lot more in the coming months!
The ergonomics are great and much easier to use. The EVF is an improvement on an already good EVF. The screen seems similar to me in most respects. The added weight although disliked by people saving weight is an issue, is not to me, I already left most of my gear at home now so don’t mind the extra 150g. The extra weight makes it feel much more substantial and less likely to wobble with a larger area for the tripod late and L-bracket to bolt onto. The moving of the shutter button also great. The added shutter delay on bracketing is brill (*caveat see below). The silent shooting mode (even at 12bit) would be superb for weddings etc. Having IBIS on primes are very useful. The AF works very well with my Canon lenses which is one main reason for upgrading. I think with improvements in the adapters (even a rumour of a transparent mirrored one for legacy A7s) using so many 3rd party lenses, a lot with fast AF, will be a great advantage to Sony and change the market quite a lot.
Is there a big benefit for a ‘pure’ landscape photographer to upgrade form an A7R to an A7RII considering the current market value? No, I don’t think so. The improvements in IQ, resolution, sensitivity etc are def. moderate rather than massive, from one to the other. If the price drops more, which is likely to at some point, then perhaps it will be but you can pick us a bargain A7R now for £700-800. If you want thebest overall IQ in single still mode though then the A7RII would be a step up. For me though, I wanted it as a do-it-all camera to replace the 6D; in this respect it has. The A7R wasn’t quite there to replace it and shoot a few weddings, events or other genres that I have been asked to do for friends or local businesses. It means I can carry 1 camera (although the A7R will be a great backup in the bag for landscaping being so light on upcoming trips away) to most thing I would have with my 6D but with 42.3 megapixels, prob 2.5 more stops of DR, 4K video, less bulky, tilting screen, EVF and LCD zoom assist. So for me I am very happy, pleased with the results which I have expected since I pre-ordered, reading between the lines of the super positive hysteria and the negative doom-and-gloom reports.
Once I have played with high ISO 4k in Iceland and shot a lot more on single and continuous bracket (12bit) and used the AF with my Canon lenses a lot more I will do a second review to wrap things up.
I thought I’d post up a few useful accessories I have got with the A7RII with links to the ebay shops I got them from (Affiliate links to be open about it too).
The Meike MK-A7II 2.4g Wireless Control Battery Grip. This is very well-built and a cheap alternative to the Sony grip but the benefit over the Sony is the built-in radio trigger. The remote is small and powered by two AAA’s (unfortunately no off button) and work up to 100m. The 2 batteries slot in easily, the grip aligns perfectly. There is a good review on You tube about it.
I used it recently for a time-lapse function for the galaxy shot above (3 sec delay, 20 shots of 5 seconds at 1 sec intervals) and worked very well.
LB-A7M2 L-Bracket is great for the price. I did a quick review here http://www.richardfoxphotography.com/quick-release-l-bracket-sony-a7rii-cameras-ilce-7rm2/ and added some issues which the one I have. Both issues are minor but the marks it made on the bottom meant I have had to put some electrical tape over the edge areas which have stopped any further markings but for about £15 I think it’s very good with a tiny bit of tinkering. I think I may not of aligned it properly and it then shifted in use.
Sony PCK-LM12 Screen Protector . There are other available but I had read that the adhesive is at the edges of the screen so there isn’t any bubbles after you apply. The A7RII does come with one applied to the screen but I thought I’d add another just to be safe. About £10 from most retailers.