It’s been about a year since Sony shook up the mirrorless industry with the release of the full-frame A7 and A7r. They followed up with a low-light king, the A7s, in the summer, and now the original A7 sees a refresh with the A7II – a camera that is largely about refining the A7 brand, but adds one key feature to the mix: the world’s first full-frame 5-Axis in-body stabilization. The A7II slots in at the exact same spot its older brother occupied, at the same $1698 price point as well. Is the addition of in-body IS along with some ergonomic changes enough to up Sony’s game? Let’s find out in our Sony A7II Review.
If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool. I am not a videographer, so my reviews concentrate on the still imaging capabilities of a camera.
Construction and Handling
One of the nicer changes from the original A7 to the new A7II is the tweaking of the exterior design and an upgrade in construction quality. While the original A7 featured a composite and metal hybrid build, the A7II has upgraded the exterior construction to an all magnesium-alloy construction with a durable matte finish. While this has the great effect of making the camera feel incredibly solid and decidedly like a true professional tool, it has the down side of increasing the weight of the camera body substantially. In fact, the A7II is nearly 35% heavier than its predecessor, and it can definitely be felt.
However, Sony also changed the main ergonomic complaint of the A7 and have provided a very comfortable hand grip with the shutter button moved forward onto the grip itself. As a result, the A7II handles beautifully in the field, despite the heavier weight. The grip on the A7II is the best ever on a Sony mirrorless camera, and is perfectly contoured with a wonderfully textured rubber grip. The dials on the camera are redesigned as well from the A7 series, and these unfortunately are a bit more fiddly than the original broader dials. The dial that sits under the shutter button is the worst offender, especially when shooting with gloves, but the redesigned hand grip is worth it.
It may seem odd to go on at length about a simple grip change, but for me, it made all the difference in the world, and made the A7II significantly more fun to shoot than the original A7. The other controls are very similar to the other A7 series cameras, and this is a good thing. I also have to remark on the feel of the exposure compensation dial. This is smaller than the EC dials on many other cameras, but the resistance is absolutely perfect. It is just firm enough to avoid accidental movement, but not so firm as to prevent easy use of the dial with just the thumb. It simply feels fantastic to use. The overall ergonomics and handling of the A7II are big reasons to consider diving in with this body vs. the other full-frame Sony mirrorless cameras.
Operation and Controls
As I mentioned above, the general control scheme of the A7II is largely similar to the original A7. The controls are laid out almost identically to those on the A7 with two minor changes. First, with the shutter button now moved forward on to the grip, there is additional room on top of the camera, and Sony has added a second customizable function button on the top plate. C1 and C2 buttons sit in front of the exposure compensation dial, and while they do require a slightly uncomfortable bend of the finger, they are both within easy reach during shooting. What was the C2 button on the A7 is now the C3 button, and it still sits up and to the left of the AF/MF/AEL button. This button location was one of the few ergonomic problems I mentioned in my review of the original A7. However, the simple act of angling the back plate has made this button location significantly easier to access. Thanks, Sony!
The only controls that sit outside of the main area that can be accessed by the index finger and thumb are the movie record button, which sits on the outside of the right grip and the menu button that sits on the left side of the camera. The menu button location is a bit odd, but it’s not a major issue. I like Sony’s positioning of the movie record button, which provides easy access while making it difficult to press accidentally. A standard PASM mode dial sits on top of the camera and has great resistance to prevent accidental changing of this important setting.
As one who’s been shooting with the a6000 for the past 6 months, I fell naturally into the control system of the A7II. Sony continues use of their excellently implemented 12 item Function Menu, accessed with the Fn button on the rear of the camera and providing quick access to all the settings you could wish for during shooting. Especially nice is the ability to place quick access for the in-body stabilizer settings, which comes in very handy when shooting with adapted manual focus lenses. I’ll get more into the in-body IS a little bit later in the review. Sony also hasn’t changed their tabbed menu interface, which puts a huge number of options into a well organized interface. Frankly, I think it’s great that they didn’t make any changes here.
23 thoughts on “Review: Sony A7II”
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,.
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.
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.
Again a great review, thank you!
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
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.
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!
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.
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:
Signed the petition. See my comment on the a6000 vs A7 Mark II
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
This finding is supported by DXOMARK’s report.
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.
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.