Viewfinder and Rear Screen
The A7R II features an upgraded electronic viewfinder (EVF) from the A7R or any other previous A7 series camera. The most notable change is in the finder optics, which enlarge the EVF to 0.78x magnification, which just passes the Fuji X-T1’s 0.77x magnification to become the largest viewfinder currently available on a 35mm format or smaller camera. The viewfinder is clear and has good color response and the extra size gives the EVF a beautiful full view of your scene. While the hardware side of the EVF is quite excellent, there is a down side with regards to the software implementation when magnifying the view.
If you regularly plan on using adapted manual focus lenses with the A7R II, then the viewfinder is actually slightly worse than the original A7R or the A7 II for focusing while magnified. Something in the EVF scaling when magnification is activated with adapted lenses is quite off, especially at the 5x level. At this magnification, the view is a soft fuzzy mess. Bizarrely, this isn’t the case when magnifying using a native FE mount lens. The 12.5x magnification isn’t as bad as the 5x, but it still doesn’t appear as clear as the other A7 finders. I’m hoping Sony issues a fix for this oddity, as it can be quite difficult to resolve fine details at the 5x magnification level.
The rear screen is a 3″ 1.2 million dot screen that is extremely good. Viewing angles are excellent and the display is clear, rich and has great contrast. Colors are fairly accurate as well. The rear screen also is on a tilt mechanism like most of the E-mount cameras, which can tilt flat to point up at 90 degrees, or down at approximately 45 degrees. The tilting mechanism is, like the rest of the camera, very robustly constructed. It’s a shame that Sony still doesn’t feel the need to make the rear screens on their recent cameras touch sensitive, which would add a nice added dimension to shooting with the camera.
The A7R II gains an all new sensor that has a whopping 399 phase-detect autofocus points spread across the central 50% of the sensor area. As a result, the focusing has been improved quite a bit from the original A7R. In my experience with the camera, the biggest difference was in low-light focus acquisition, where the A7R II consistently was able to quickly and accurately focus in extremely dim lighting conditions, something I can’t say about earlier A7 series cameras. With my A7 II, I will often have times where even fast native lenses have trouble quickly and accurately finding focus in dimmer light, especially when the subject is backlit. Happily, the A7R II’s AF system handles these situations with ease. I found the A7R II to quickly lock focus in most any type of light. Well done here. It’s the best single shot performance I’ve experienced on a Sony camera.
Continuous autofocus has been improved dramatically from the CDAF-only A7R, but unfortunately I found the improvement over the A7 II to be minimal to non-existent. The camera performed fairly poorly when tracking moving subjects, even those as common as a person walking towards the camera. While I’d get occasional hits dead on in the middle of a burst when someone would walk towards me, in many cases, the camera didn’t seem to be predicting where the subject would be, but would rather track focus and lock it when the picture was taken, resulting in a substantial portion of my C-AF shots with focus just behind where the intended point of focus was. As an example, the sequence below was one of the worst. I utilized single point with AF expansion, keeping the AF point directly over the subject’s face, while he walked towards me. The shot below, the 11th photo in a 17 shot burst, was one of only two photos in the burst to absolutely nail focus. The other shot was the first in the sequence. While this sequence was one of the worst I took when testing C-AF, the very best of the 10-15 different runs, with differing subjects, both indoors and out, was only around a 60% hit rate.
Sony’s recent cameras also have their new Eye AF focus algorithm, which can be assigned to a custom function button. Like the other recent cameras, this function works quite well on the A7R II. If your subject is in focus enough for the camera to analyze the scene for faces, it will find faces, find the eyes, and lock focus to the nearest eye. It’s an excellent feature for use with fast glass to make sure the eyes are in focus.
The big hullabaloo about the A7R II’s focus system, however, has been with adapted lenses that have electrical communication: specifically Sony A mount and Canon EF mount lenses. Unfortunately, I don’t have a stable of Canon EF lenses to test, nor do I own a Metabones EF to E mount adapter. I do, however, have an EF mount Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX and the much cheaper Fotga EF to E mount adapter. The Fotga when used on my A7 II is effectively only a manual focus lens adapter. It attempts to focus on that camera, but actually locking is an extremely rare feat. Aperture control works perfectly, of course.
With the A7R II, Ithe difference was night and day. My Fotga adpater has some odd quirks in that it will sometimes work great and other times seems to not do much of anything with regards to AF. However, when it does work, the A7R II was able to focus my Sigma 50mm f/1.4 essentially as fast as a native Canon DSLR body, at least in good light. I was able to quickly change focus from close to far away with quick and sure focus moves that were very accurate. This is not a fast focusing lens, but the performance I saw was only a bit slower than what I got with my Canon 1Ds Mark II. See the hastily shot video (handheld with my phone to the EVF) below to see the performance I was able to get with this lens. I apologize for the video quality here..but I didn’t have time to do a more controlled setup.
It’s worth noting that the reports I’m seeing are showing mixed performance with regards to AF performance with Canon lenses. Some lenses seem to work very well while others won’t work at all, or are inaccurate or slow to focus. It’s worth doing some detailed research if you plan on using autofocus EF lenses with the A7R II.
With regards to performance, the A7R II is generally quite responsive. The maximum frame rate of 5 frames per second is certainly not going to endear the camera to action shooters, but it’s a sufficient speed for most photographers. The A7R II has a deep buffer, though, and is capable of maintaining the top shutter speed for a maximum of 23 RAW images or 40 Fine JPEG images in my testing with a Lexar 633x UHS-I U3 memory card. Oddly, Extra Fine JPEG images share the same 23 image buffer as RAW files. Given the 42 MB files size for RAW files, this equates to moving nearly 1GB of data in a full burst. Five frames per second may not be blazing speed, but given the size of the images, it’s not bad at all.
Overall performance is quite good for a camera packing this much imaging power into its small frame, with relatively minimal shutter lag and generally snappy operation. However, the large RAW files do take some time to write to the card, so count on a few seconds of delay after a shot before the image is ready for review. If you take a long burst, the camera will write for quite a while, even with a fast memory card.