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Sony A7RII Camera of the Year but Should You Buy It?

A Little History

Sony has been innovating with full frame mirrorless cameras since their first initial release of the A7 (24 megapixels) and A7R (36 megapixels) in October of 2013. At the time other than a Leica with a price point well above $5000, this was the cheapest full frame mirrorless camera on the market. Of course these two cameras had their problems with extremely noisy shutters that created camera vibration and a lack lustre stable of lenses. Even so with its more reasonable price and much smaller size and weight some early adopters began moving away from the massive full frame DSLR rigs. On big attraction was the ability to use Leica lenses through the use of a simple adaptor. After all if you could buy a full frame mirrorless with the same specifications as a D800e for less money, then this is a viable option.

Since that time they have produced a number of A7 cameras in rapid succession. First the A7s in April of 2014, a 12 megapixel camera that can almost shoot in the dark with outstanding video quality. This was followed quickly by the update A7II in November of 2014, with the first ever 5 axis sensor shifting image stabilization in a full frame camera, and they fixed the shutter noise. Then in June of 2015, they came out with what will undoubtable be called the camera of the year the A7RII. This camera not only has the 5 axis stabilization, but it has been bumped to 42 megapixels and now has the first ever back illuminated sensor in an interchangeable lens camera. I can also be set to a completely quiet electronic shutter. There is literally no camera on the market as advanced as this camera.

The Reason to Buy

The A7RII now that it is in production and has been review and tested by scores of people is proving to be a monster of a camera. Lets take a look at what you would be getting:

  • the camera’s 42.4 megapixel CMOS sensor produces better dynamic range and low noise images than the Canon’s  5Ds high resolution 50 megapixel camera.
  • the back illuminated sensor has expanded the dynamic range of the camera beyond that of other interchangeable lens camera.
  • low light ISO by .05 stops is better even than the A7s raising the maximum ISO by two stops.
  • it has the largest electronic view finder on the market today.
  • the shutter is designed for a stunning 500,000 actuations.
  • I has the five axis image stabilization on the sensor which means any lens you attach whether it be Sony or not is stabilized. The stabilization boasts a 4.5 stop gain. Reviews have reported a realistic 2 to 2.5 stop advantage over the Nikon D810, and more if the electronic shutter is not engaged.
  • the on sensor phase focus system and third party adaptors allow you to use many Canon lenses in fully automatic mode, adapters for Nikon lenses have just been released and of course there is an adaptor for Leica lenses as well.
  • the camera has 4k video so you can capture photographic stills from a video, and the video imaging is excellent.
  • there is a electronic shutter which can both eliminate vibration and make the camera completely quite when shooting.
  • there is no optical low pass filter which gives this camera a significant sharpness boost.
  • the new sensor has 399 focal-plan phase – detection auto focus which can shoot at a surprising 5 frames per second, while covering 60% of the frame. This is in addition to its 25 contrast auto focus points.
  • the camera is well connected to the the smartphone world with Wi-Fi and NFC that connect to both Android and Apple apps.
  • the focus accuracy of the camera is better than any DSLR so far on the market.
  • bracketing on this camera is excellent up to 9 images 1 EV or up to 5 images 3 EV, giving it the flexibility not found on other cameras.
  • Zeiss is now producing a line of “Batis” lenses specifically for the A7 series of cameras and they are fully integrated with the cameras automatic systems, and are very high quality.
  • the weight and size of this camera will allow you to carry for much longer periods of time than a full frame DSLR, not to mention it is more discrete.
  • Sony is now manufacturing a line of G lenses which are perhaps better than the Zeiss Batis lenses!
  • Most third party lenses can be attached to this camera using converters.

The Reason not to Buy

Nothing is ever perfect so there are some draw backs to the camera which are easily overlooked when such a stunning camera comes onto the market.

  • reviewers have reported that is really not a fast camera and that there are sluggish responses in many of its actions including powering up, reviewing images and zooming.
  • like many Sony cameras the battery life is very short and will likely mean you need to carry a number of extra batteries. In the field the camera gets 350 shots RAW + JPG. So this is perhaps half that of a DSLR but not a deal breaker, especial when the Sony is so much smaller.
  • the menu system is also typical of Sony somewhat unintuitive and more complex than necessary.
  • some people who have tested the camera have found the IBIS has completed the process of keeping the sensor clean of dust spots, but for some reason many of the spots can not be removed with a blower or a shaker.
  • the video is limited to 8 bit 420 internal and 8 bit 422 external recording so it can not do 10 bit.
  • some of the Sony lenses suffer from asymemetry problems, creating blurring in specific spots of the lens. Some reviews suggest that this is due to lapses in quality control.
  • if you need a faster camera this is not the camera for you as the increase in dynamic range and low light capacity, that is achieved by replacing the EXMOR RS (stacking sensors) with the EXMOR R (back illuminated sensor), comes at the cost of slowing the camera down to five frames per second.
  • the camera has a reasonable feel in the hand but does lack the ergonomics of other full frame cameras and is perhaps more menu oriented than cameras like the Fuji X series.
  • other DSLR have extensive third party equipment developed for them and there is an extensive used market for this equipment, this is not the case yet for Sony. So this means you can buy and sell much more easily with other systems.

Travel Considerations

When you consider travelling with the camera on an airplane this focuses you attention sharply on the differences between systems. You are not likely going to check your camera equipment where it can get stolen or damaged through improper handling. So it will be going on the plane with you along with other essentials that can not be checked. At this point you begin to realize that the camera and its associate equipment as a whole is not the same as the size of just the camera and its lens. I think the following quote from Ming Thein, which describes his thinking on this issue, describes very well the thought process photographers go through when travelling:

On top of that, frequent fliers will also be familiar with the eternal problem of airlines and weight – the A7RII and six batteries might not be lighter than a D810 and one [note he is overstating the battery needs and weight], but the Batis 85 is a third of the weight of the Otus 85, and weather sealed (even if the A7RII’s seals appear somewhat questionable). I could carry the 55 FE, 85 Batis and perhaps Voigtlander 180/4 APO together with a Q and have an extremely versatile and high quality travel kit without printing compromises. A D810-based system would require a Zacuto, two Otuses and perhaps a tripod – which raises weight by 2.5-7kg and is the difference between checking in and carrying on only.

Personally my decision on this issue would be different. For one I would want to be travelling with a much smaller package than he is considering and one that is somewhat of less value and easier to conceal. One thing that goes through my mind is what am I prepared to leave behind in my hotel room? The Sony A7RII five axis stabilization comes very close to eliminating the need for a tripod, so this is something to consider when travelling. This coupled with the 35 mm 2.8 lens makes the camera just slightly larger than some APSC cameras. So in some ways it might be an ideal travel camera.

Financial Considerations

The Street Camera Comparison in the chart below looks at the price of “streeting” the leading compact APSC and Full Frame cameras. As you can see from the chart there is quite a range in prices and quality. However with the exception of the X100t and the D810 the cameras seem to all be of a similar size.

Street Cameras Compared

Conclusion

If you own an X100t camera or a Fujifilm APSC camera, or 6000, Leica Q, D800/810 upgrading to the A7RII just to get a smaller street camera would really make no sense. If you are a landscape photographer and own any of these cameras, unless you really need the extreme detail then it really is not worth upgrading. If you need extreme detail and own a D800/810, there is not enough difference in camera IQ to really need to change unless you need really good low light performance or a smaller camera.

So if you always have to have the best and want to stay on the cutting edge of photographic technology then you should be liquidating your camera equipment to invest in this camera. It is time to take the leap. The only caveat I have here is “will another more amazing camera be released tomorrow?”

If you are a landscape or street photographer upgrading to a full frame camera from a APSC DSLR then I think the A7RII would likely be the camera to consider, it is more “streetable,” more advanced and by the time you become comfortable with the camera Leica will have sufficiently closed the gap in the high end lens arena.

Some Links for Further Reading.

Dpreview article on the RAW compression problem

Dpreview Review of A7RII

Why I’m Not Ditching My DSLR for a Sony A7RII

Ming Thein Review of the A7RII

TWIP: All About the Gear Review of the A7RII

Camera Labs Review of the A7RII

Luminous Landscape Review of the A7RII (video)

Ming Thein dislikes the A7rII: “something designed for anoraks by anoraks, not a camera.”

DXOMark A7rII comparisons

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