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Jan 16

Review: Sony A7II

Image Quality

Dynamic Range and Color

Ice at the Lower Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, OH - Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 19mm, f/18, 0.8s, ISO 100

Ice at the Lower Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, OH – Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 19mm, f/18, 0.8s, ISO 100

The A7II features a largely unchanged 24 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor that first appeared in the original A7.  Minor modifications include the additional phase-detect autofocus sites and a somewhat redesigned sensor stack that reduces reflections off the sensor vs. the A7 (which occasionally had issues with sensor reflections showing in images).  As a result, the overall image quality from the A7 II is extremely similar to the A7, and that’s just fine.

The A7II produces images with wide dynamic range that can capture the brightest brights and the darkest darks in all but the most demanding scenes.  The bracketing options on the camera may make it easier to do HDR photography, but for most shooting, that’s an unnecessary step.  The beautiful tonality to the images that was present in the original A7 is still on display here, with a gentle rolloff from light to dark that gives a simply gorgeous look to the images.

The A7 II also has excellent color response and color depth, yielding rich files that display a subtlety that is difficult to get without a big full-frame sensor.  If you are a RAW shooter, you will find really nothing to complain about the A7 II with regards to dynamic range and color.

Noise and Detail

As with other imaging characteristics, the A7II has excellent control of noise at higher sensitivities.  The camera is capable of low levels of noise through ISO 3200 and images are easily usable for moderate size prints up to 12,800.  ISO 25,600 is usable for small prints and web use, but does display a fair bit of noise at this ISO.  The level of detail remains very high when shooting at higher sensitivities, which makes any residual noise a non-issue.  The excellent noise performance combined with the high quality in-body stabilization makes the A7II one of the best cameras around for shooting in dim light while handheld.

Overall detail levels from the camera are also excellent.  The sensor does have an anti-aliasing filter, but it’s not particularly strong.  Images at low ISOs display a wealth of information and fine detail, even in the shadows and highlights.

Siblings - Sony A7II with Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 @ ISO 1600 - Click the image to enlarge.  Click this link to view a full size sample.

Siblings – Sony A7II with Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 @ ISO 1600 – Click the image to enlarge then click the green arrow to view full size

JPEG Image Quality

I am predominantly a RAW shooter, but if you read my review of the A7 last year, you will know that one of the few things I thought the camera failed at was JPEG output.  The JPEGs out of the original A7 were, in a word, atrocious, especially at high ISO.  They had artifacts and terrible compression, making the images look like they’d been taken with a camera from 2003 rather than 2013.  Thankfully, Sony has dramatically improved the JPEG image quality with the A7 II.

While Sony still doesn’t produce the best JPEGs in the industry (a nod I give to both Fuji and Olympus), the A7 II produces JPEGs with far less artifacts than the first generation of the camera.  Tonality and color are quite good and the blotchy mess that was created at high ISO is now much more natural.  That said, Sony is still too heavy handed with the noise reduction in JPEG mode, which does remove a notable amount of detail from the images compared to the excellent RAW files.  So while the JPEG output is still only ‘OK’, it’s a massive improvement over the terrible JPEGs of the original A7.

Video

As I mentioned in my little disclaimer note at the beginning of the review, I am not a videographer, and I don’t feel comfortable going in-depth on the video features.  That said, the limited video I did shoot looked outstanding.  The camera is capable of 50Mbps 1080/24p video, with full manual exposure control and continuous autofocus.  The in-body stabilization also works in video mode and does a very nice job at keeping the video still, even with non-native manual focus lenses.

Continue: Conclusion and Image Samples

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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