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Jan 16

Review: Sony A7II

In-Body Image Stabilization

Selecting the focal length for shooting with adapted lenses

Selecting the focal length for shooting with adapted lenses

By far the biggest upgrade internally for the A7II vs. the original A7 is the addition of in-body image stabilization (IBIS) utilizing a 5-axis sensor-shift stabilizer that Sony dubs “SteadyShot Inside.” The system is similar to the 5-axis stabilizer used in Olympus mirrorless cameras, but Sony insists that this solution is independently developed.

The addition of IBIS to a full-frame mirrorless camera is a big deal. It takes the excellent low-light capabilities of that large sensor and leverages them even further to create what my be the ultimate camera for low light handholding. As many shooters utilize the A7 series cameras as a digital body for manual focus lenses such as older SLR lenses like Canon’s FD mount lenses or the outstanding rangefinder optics for the Leica M mount, the addition of IBIS allows these manual focus gems to gain modern image stabilization. That is, provided, that it works.

The good news is that it does work, and it works fairly well. The system is unique in that it works with optically stabilized lenses as well as non-optically stabilized lenses. When an optically stabilized native lens is used, the camera allows the optical stabilizer to correct the two axes of shake that the optical unit can correct. The camera body then corrects the other 3. When utilizing native E-mount lenses with electrical contacts that don’t have stabilizers, the full 5-axis sensor shift is in action. When utilizing manual focus lenses, the camera corrects shake only in 3 axes of movement (presumably the other two are best corrected with distance information from the lens).

Sony A7II with Contax G 90mm f/2.8 @ 1/50s in APS-C Crop mode.  IBIS allowed for a tack-sharp shot at a slower speed than would have been possible without it.

Sony A7II with Contax G 90mm f/2.8 @ 1/50s in APS-C Crop mode. IBIS allowed for a tack-sharp shot at a slower speed than would have been possible without it.

Sony claims 4.5 stops of extra handholdability with their IBIS system, which I found a bit too optimistic.  With both native lenses and adapted manual focus lenses I found the system to be good for an extra two to three stops of handholdability. This is below the very best optical stabilizers (and not quite as effective as Olympus’ excellent IBIS on the E-M1), but it is still a very good result, allowing me to get sharp shots in many demanding situations.

One thing to note is that to use the in-body stabilizer with manual focus lenses, one must first enter the focal length of the lens, so the body knows how much to correct. This is done quickly and easily via an on-screen menu, and thankfully can be assigned to the camera’s Fn menu for super easy access.  One bizarre omission is that the input of focal length for IBIS is not appended to the EXIF data, which would have been very nice for helping to organize shots taken with manual focus lenses.

One thing of minor note: when the camera was released, there was a bug in the software that would prevent the stabilizer from working with manual focus lenses if you had an optically stabilized lens mounted, then swapped to the manual focus lens while the camera was off. The only way to correct it was to either hot-swap from the OSS lens to the manual lens, or to first mount a non-OSS lens and turn the camera on. Thankfully, Sony was quick to correct this glitch, as the error is reported to be fixed with the very recent firmware update to improve the IBIS functionality.

One frustrating thing for me was that the new firmware was released 12 hours after I had to send my review sample back, so I unfortunately did not get to test the camera with the latest firmware update.

Wi-Fi

Sony's remote control interface

Sony’s remote control interface

Like all recent Sony E-Mount cameras, the A7II has full-featured Wi-Fi capabilities, including remote control and the ability to transfer images from your camera to your tablet or smartphone.

The functionality is largely unchanged from earlier E-Mount cameras.  A hotspot can be created on camera through the menu, and you can then connect your mobile device to the camera by connecting to that hotspot.  If you have an Android phone with NFC capabilities, tapping your phone to the NFC spot will help establish the link as well.

Transferring images between the camera and phone is easy and painless.  You can select images either on the device or the camera, and a JPEG is then moved to the mobile device.  One downside to the image transfer that still hasn’t been addressed is the inability to convert RAW images on the fly.  Both Fuji and Olympus have robust RAW conversion capabilities in camera to adjust exposure, color and contrast settings, etc, and then create a full-resolution JPEG.  With Sony’s cameras, you can transfer full resolution JPEG images if they are created at the time of capture, but if you shot RAW only, you are only able to transfer the low resolution JPEG preview that is embedded in the RAW file.  While I’d love the full RAW conversion capabilities I mentioned earlier, Sony really needs to implement a quick full resolution JPEG conversion with the default settings to allow for full resolution transfer of RAW images.  In 2013, this was an acceptable oversight given the relative novelty of Wi-Fi in a camera, but in late 2014/early 2015, it’s now a bit behind the times.

The remote control features are identical to other E-Mount cameras, as they use the same ‘Remote Control’ app from the PlayMemories store.  By default, the camera comes with a crippled version of the remote control software, which then must be upgraded to the latest version by logging into a PlayMemories account and downloading the Remote Control app update.  While this is free, it’s also a pain, so it would be nice to not require a login to upgrade a feature of the camera right away.  The upgraded app works well, allowing for adjustment of exposure parameters, focus point and so on, though the app does have a fair bit of lag, and shot to shot times with remote shooting are quite slow. Sony is very close to being great with these Wi-Fi features, but they do need some refinement.

APS-C Lenses

The A7II, like the other full-frame E-Mount bodies, has full compatibility with the entire APS-C lineup of E-mount lenses.  When utilizing native lenses with electrical contacts, the camera will (by default) automatically switch to APS-C cropped mode, showing and recording a 10 megapixel APS-C sized crop of the full sensor readout, and making the lenses behave exactly the same  as they would on an APS-C body such as the a6000 or NEX-7.  The downside, of course, is the loss of resolution to 10 megapixels.  While that sounds like an enormous drop, I was very pleasantly surprised as to how useful this capability truly is.

The APS-C Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS on the A7II

The APS-C Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS on the A7II

While you won’t get the super high resolution shots that you would with these lenses on something like the a6000, there is something to be said for per-pixel image quality.  The 10 megapixel images in APS-C cropped mode are exceptional in quality.  The lenses don’t tax a 10 megapixel resolution, and the sensor quality is outstanding, such that your 10 MP images are tack sharp and have great tonality.  If you have some APS-C E-Mount lenses and are thinking of making the jump to one of the A7 bodies, don’t feel the immediate pressure to duplicate your APS-C lens lineup with all FE mount lenses right away, as you can feel confident in getting good images with your APS-C lenses.  Of course, long term, to get the most out of the camera, you’ll want to use the full sensor area, but it’s a handy feature to use certain lenses that you may already own.  There is a setting to disable the APS-C crop, which will show the whole image circle.  With some lenses, such as the Sony 10-18mm, almost the whole sensor is still covered.  The 10-18mm, for instance, covers the full frame sensor from 13-15mm, providing an extreme ultra-wide-angle lens.  Longer focal lengths only require minimal cropping as well.

Other Items of Note

Like the other recent E-Mount cameras, the A7II has access to the PlayMemories Camera App Store, which enables the user to purchase new functionality for their camera.  Some of these apps are gimicky image editing programs that don’t do anything particularly special.  Others give genuinely useful features to the camera, such as the Time Lapse app, which adds intervalometer functions to the camera for the price of $10.  This feature is both nice for adding functionality, and a bit frustrating that such functionality wasn’t included by default on a $1,700 camera.

The camera has excellent bracketing functions, allowing for 5 shots at +/- 3 stops, which should be enough exposure lattitude for any scene (provided the 1/8000s max shutter speed is sufficient).

Continue: Image Quality

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

17 comments

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  1. HF

    Very nice review. Agree with almost all your points. Bought it, too. I get about 2-3 stops advantage using IBIS with adapted lenses, 3-4 with native lenses. Very useful for hand-held macro shooting, too,.

  2. Mike Aubrey

    Thanks, Jordan. Good review. I’m not one to upgrade camera bodies regularly and am still enjoying my A7. Still, it’s always nice to follow what’s new.

  3. rob

    Nice review. I totally agree that what is most great about the A7ii is just how enjoyable it is to use especially against the A7r that I had before. Small primes with ibis, a repositioned shutter etc.

    Two points. The Sony wifi transfer rate seems far faster (and actually more robust) than others on the market. Following the firmware update you can now ‘creat jpegs’ in camera (+raw) that defines the size of the jpegs that you transfer. This gives you a lot of flexibility.

  4. Sahib7

    Again a great review, thank you!

    One question:
    As somebody who is using a Fuji X system and an E-M1 like you, what are your feelings about the A7 II compared to theses more matured systems? How is the usability and your gut feeling in comparison to your Fuji X-T1 or X-E2 or your Olympus E-M1?
    Is the image quality a big step up compared with Fuji X or m43 with the best primes

    Thank you!

    1. Jordan Steele

      Is it a big step up? No. Is it a step up? Yes. How important that step up is to you will vary by person. I did some side by side shots with my a6000 and Rokinon 12mm vs the A7 II and the 16-35, and the differences were extremely small. Only some very subtle gradation changes. Of course, at high ISO, it’s got about a stop advantage over the a6000.

      Vs. the X-T1, things are even trickier to examine. At high ISO, there’s virtually no advantage whatsoever to the A7 II with regards to pure noise ISO for ISO (matching exposures, not just relying on the numbers). However, the A7 II still has a resolution advantage, which will mean a bit of an edge at high ISO in overall image quality despite similar noise. At base ISO, the differences in dynamic range are small, and tonality is even very close, but the A7 II of course resolves more detail, which makes it a slightly better landscape camera on the image quality front.

      Vs. the E-M5 (I own the E-M5, not the E-M1, though I’ve reviewed the E-M1 and shot with it extensively for that review), the A7 II is a fairly substantial step up in tonal gradation, though still only a minor step up in resolution. Noise is about 1.5 stops ahead of something like the E-M1.

      Handling wise, the A7 II steps right in and belongs with the E-M1 and X-T1…it is a great handling camera, and the E-M1 and X-T1 are frankly my benchmarks, and now the A7 II joins that list. It’s a really nice camera to shoot with. The viewfinders in both the X-T1 and E-M1 are a bit better than the one in the A7 II, and if I had to rank the control schemes, I’d probably put them X-T1, E-M1, A7 II in that order, but a lot of that is personal preference for the Fuji controls rather than one being ‘better’ than the other.

      As far as overall system and such, the Micro 4/3 and Fuji X lines are definitely more mature, and the lenses have a slight edge at the moment. The Sony FE mount lenses are excellent, but they are fairly big (except for the 35) and they are quite expensive, so there’s a big price premium if you’re going to use native lenses on the Sony.

      I absolutely LOVE the Fuji prime lenses, with the 23/1.4, 35/1.4 and 56/1.2 being workhorse lenses for me, and the excellent zooms are great too. WIth the middle sensor size, the Fuji lenses are bigger than Micro 4/3, but smaller than the comparable FF glass for the most part (until we start looking at the f/2.8 zooms). With Micro 4/3, you’ve got great lens selections that are SMALL. Much smaller than the Sony FF lenses and even quite a bit smaller than the Fuji lenses.

      As camera bodies go, these are all fairly similar in size, but the Sony is much heavier…it’s a tank.

      Ultimately, all of these systems can produce really high quality images in the right hands. I feel that it’s far more important to find a camera that fits how you shoot than reaching for that 5% increase in image quality unless you absolutely positiviely need it. I’ll continue to shoot Fuji as my primary system because of the lenses and the control scheme, which fits how I operate quite well, but I am very likely to purchase an A7 II in the near future.

      For one, I’d like to do more FF Sony reviews, and having the body handy makes that a lot easier. Second, I’d use it predominantly as a digital Canon FD body. I have a fairly full lineup of FD glass (35/2, 50/1.4, 55/1.2, 85/1.8, 200/2.8, 70-210/4, 50-300/4.5L), and would only need to pick up a 24/2.8 or 20/2.8 to round out a full FD kit that would be quite small for most shooting (pack the 20, 35, 50 and 85 and I’m covered for most things with very little bulk), but it’d be cool to have this body to bring out for some landscape use when I have time to set up the shots and manually focus.

      1. Sahib7

        Thank you Jordan for your thorough answer!

        It’s a great time to be a photographer, choices are almost endless.
        I love my Fuji X-E2 (together with the 23mm and 56mm, although I preferred the color rendition of my X-E1, but its AF was lacking…) and my Olympus E-M1 (especially with the Voigtlander primes and the Oly 75mm).

        What tempts me most on a FF camera is the even better DOF control with the right lenses, although my Voigtlanders (25mm and 17.5mm) are already f1.9 equivalent and the Fuji 56 f1.2 is a 85mm f1.8 equivalent.
        I’m not too interested in higher resolution, 16 MP is a sweet spot for me regarding file size and crop ability.
        I’m also a RAW shooter using Lightroom and my main focus is family photography (fast moving toddler, lots of low light) together with a bit of landscape and more artsy stuff.

        Are you planning to compare different lenses from different systems like you’ve already done in your PL Nocticron vs. Fuji 56mm review (this article convinced me to buy a Fuji 56mm f1.2 together with a Fuji X-E1 for less money than the PL, my beginning of using a second system)? That would be really great!

  5. Earl Robicheaux

    Since I am not as young as I used to be, the weight of full frame camera’s and their quality lenses has been starting to become an issue, so when Sony came out with the A7 series cameras last year I was excited and was an early user of the A7r and the A7. However, for the A7r there were two issues which forced me to stay with my Nikon Bodies, the lack of the first curtain electronic shutter and their 11 bit file compression. (Please see RawDigger’s web site for a discussion on the artifact issue.) Even given the file compression issue, I did purchase and use the Sony a6000. It is a great small camera that takes excellent pictures. So, when Sony announced the A7 II, I checked all the web sites for news on their file handling and all claimed it was a 14 bit camera. So when I received my A7II over the Christmas season, I put it through a bunch of tests with my D810, D600 and a6000. Let me say, that I wanted to love the A7II. Sony has done a great job of improving the weight and feel of this camera although I was a little disappointed with the resolution of the monitor. However, I was “really” disappointed to see that Sony had done nothing to fix their file compression issue and the file was still an 11 bit file (one ready claims this is really 11 bits plus 7, whatever that means.) The bottom line was that Sony throws away about 1/4 of the information coming from this full frame sensor, completely negating the advantage this body has over the a6000. The resulting file is the same seize and same quality as the a6000. Why spend all that money for this camera and lenses when the result is the same as the a6000? So I sent the A7II back. It’s wonderful that Sony is making some real progress on these mirror-less cameras, but they will not be true Pro quality cameras until they do something with the file management. We need the pressure of individuals like you to call Sony out on this issue. There is supposed to be a new larger Sony camera coming out in February. I sincerely hope it is a true 14bit camera and not another pretend.

    1. Anonymous

      Almost all Sony cameras use lossy compression RAW files (including the A6000). I’d still prefer the A7II over the A6000 purely based on image quality. By the way there is a petition for having uncompressed or lossless compression RAW files on Sony cameras. Feel free to sign it here:

      https://www.change.org/p/sony-enable-uncompressed-or-lossless-compression-raw-files-on-the-a7-cameras-and-future-f-e-mount-cameras

      1. Earl Robicheaux

        Signed the petition. See my comment on the a6000 vs A7 Mark II

  6. Filippo M.

    Thanks for you excellent and useful review. I own the original A7 and I think to pass to a smaller sensor for a number of reasons. I would like to know your opinion about the weather sealing of Sony A7II + 24-70 mm compared to the Olympus OMD Em-5 or Em-1 + 12-40 mm. Am I right to think that while Sony claims only moisture and dust resistance the Olympus combo is able to resist rain and snow showers as suggested by several sources?
    Second, I would like to know how you expose with the Sony A7. I tend to expose for the highlights because I believe that it’s easier to recover eventually blocked or dark shadows rather than burnt highlights. Is this the best approach for IQ also according to you?
    Thanks in advance for your precious insights.

  7. Craig

    Jordan,
    I wonder if you’d be open to giving your suggestions of any portable tripods you’ve come across for the smaller mirror-less cameras that you like and would recommend for consideration? Reading your reviews it appears you do a lot of your work from tripods, and your deep into the mirror-less size cameras. Of course a lot of the appeal of mirror-less cameras is the portability and light weight. So with one’s tripod for those camera options, we’d also be grappling with that weight versus height and rigidity trade off. What do you think?

    I really appreciate your reviews. I recently rented the Fuji XT1 and expected to fall in love with it, but wasn’t won over. So, i’m now looking harder at the Sony APSC models, and your reviews are really helping inform that decision.

    Craig

    1. Jordan Steele

      I have two main tripods I use. My main pod that gets brought on any serious shoots is a pair of Induro carbon fiber CX213 legs with a Photo Clam PC-36 ballhead. The legs are discontinued, but here is the current set. While you don’t need a super heavy duty set of tripod legs for these cameras, you still need a good set, and you need a set that is the right height to work with you comfortably. I prefer having a tripod where the height is about 8 inches below my height when extended, WITHOUT extending the center column. This gives a stable view, that once you add the ballhead and the camera, will get you eye level without hunching. Of course, most of my work is done lower than that, but height is set based on the best angle for composition…but having the ability to go full height without compromising stability by extending a center column is key to me. A good set of legs also makes sense for better operation in the field and durability.

      I’ve had that tripod for about 6 years now and it’s in great shape. The ballhead is a personal choice too, but I prefer heads that have separate friction control (to avoid flopping upon release). A good head will have zero movement after tightening the ball. I also prefer using a clamp with the Arca-Swiss style quick release. I get custom plates for the camera which ensures the absolute best stability, which minimizes vibration and helps eliminate droop after setting the composition. The arca-swiss style release is also extremely secure and very fast to release, plus it allows for some adjustment in position by sliding along the dovetail. The carbon fiber legs are well worth the cost to me, keeping the overall package fairly light and easy to carry in the field. (it’s 2 pounds lighter than my old Aluminum manfrotto that I still have, but only rarely use, and even then only indoors, though that’s still a very good tripod).

      My second tripod is my travel tripod, which is a MeFoto RoadTrip. This is a great little tripod with integral ball head. The head uses an Arca-Swiss style clamp, and the head is of good, but not exceptional quality (It holds solid, but lacks dedicated friction control. The tripod folds up very small, and can easily fit inside an airline carry on. I keep this in my car at all times so I always have a tripod with me should I see something and need a tripod. When extended, it isn’t super tall, but it’s tall enough to be useful for most situations. It also can go quite low to the ground. It’s a well-made tripod and solid, though the 5 section legs do make it a tripod that won’t be good for large cameras (not a problem for me) or in heavy wind. Still, it’s quite solid given the size and great for travel. I used it when I was in Germany for Photokina, and have used it for many other shoots around town. They make this in carbon fiber too, which would make it even lighter, but I have the aluminum version for this tripod. One of the legs can also be unscrewed and attached to the center column to turn it into a monopod, which is pretty nice. (I have a Manfrotto monopod with an A/S clamp that I generally use when I need a monopod, but that’s usually only when I’m shooting golf with my big gun).

  8. Craig Carlson

    Jordan, Thanks very much for the tripod suggestions. I’ll check them out. And again, great helpful reviews! Your recent one comparing APSC to full Frame for landscape work really is giving me pause. I was thinking of going for full frame, thinking i would see a noticeable uptick in photo quality. Your analysis is a good dose of reality. Craig

  9. done alber

    The DR of the A7ii, in my experience, is about 1/2 stop worse than the A7…very noticeable to me when shooting at base ISO.

  10. done alber

    This finding is supported by DXOMARK’s report.

  11. Y.W

    Hey Jordan,

    Thanks for the nice review. However, I have a question regarding Sony’s sensor design. I noticed that A7r is equipped with individually optimized on-chip lens positions, which should improve corner image quality on WA and UWA lens. Somehow I think A7/A7ii does not have it. I don’t know how they are going to design lens. But if they are designing lens which work best on A7r, which means the same lens could perform worse on A7. Did you test the same lens on both cameras? Thanks.

    1. Jordan Steele

      I have not used the A7r, but I don’t think there’s a major advantage to the R. In fact, the A7 I believe does a little Better than the R with adapted lenses. In any cases the native glass works beautifully.

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