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Aug 14

Sony A7R II vs. A7 II – Print Test

I just got the new Sony A7R Mark II in for review today, and I’ve only had a few hours to mess around with it.  This is an exciting camera that packs a lot of great features, including a 42 MP sensor into a small package.  There are a lot of great things to discuss with this camera, and over the next week or so, I’ll be shooting extensively with it to find what’s good, what’s not, what’s overhyped and what’s special.  However, the first thing I wanted to do was see just how big a difference the massive 42 megapixels of resolution makes for low ISO shooting.  Most comparisons I’ve seen so far compare the A7R II to its direct predecessor: the A7R.  This makes sense, but an 8MP bump from 36 megapixels really isn’t all that significant.  However, when compared to the cheaper sister A7 II, which has a 24 megapixel sensor, the resolution increase is not minor.

Sony A7R II (left) vs. the Sony A7 II (right)

Sony A7R II (left) vs. the Sony A7 II (right)

If you shoot predominantly for web use or screen display, the extra resolution really isn’t going to matter one way or another.  Even if you have a 4K display, you’ll be downsampling either camera for full-screen display on a computer monitor. The area where resolution really matters is in printing, so I wanted to see how the two cameras compared when it comes to printing.

I print quite a lot, to be honest.  I display my images online, sure, but there’s nothing quite like seeing the tangible results of your photography.  Images that look good on-screen can often sing in a nice print.  I generally print medium-sized prints of around 12×18 inches, which is good enough to see lots of detail but small enough to allow me to hang more images on the wall.  When I get a shot that really speaks to me, I will sometimes print larger: generally 24×16″, but I sometimes will go to 30″ or 36″ wide.  A 36″ wide framed print takes up quite a lot of wall space, so I almost never go larger than that.  In my home, I currently have one 40×30″ print, one 36×24″ print, two 30×20″ prints, four or five 24×16″ prints, and a host of 12×18″ and smaller prints.  Where the real rubber meets the road with these high-resolution cameras is in printing large.  That one 36×24″ print I have on my wall looks amazing, as it’s a stitch of ten 16 megapixel images, with a final image resolution of 80 megapixels.  You can put your face 6″ from the print and see incredible detail.  So how does this relate to these cameras?

The Test

For this test, I used the A7R II and the A7 II, mounted on a tripod, outdoors in afternoon sunlight.  The images were taken around 2 minutes apart, both using the Sony/Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 @ f/8, 1/250s, ISO 100.  This lens is one of the sharpest lenses in existence, so should suit the resolution hungry A7R II very well.  Now some of you may say “But Jordan – the 55mm f/1.8 is actually slightly sharper at f/5.6 than it is at f/8!”  Yeah, by tests, it might be a few lp/mm sharper at f/5.6, but considering most landscape work is done at f/8-f/16 for depth of field, I think f/8 is a fine choice, and if you can honestly tell the difference visually between those two apertures, you have better eyes than I do.

The full scene captured.  This resized version is from the A7 II.

The full scene captured. This resized version is from the A7 II.

I then processed the images in Lightroom CC with the exact same develop settings and exported to Photoshop.  In Photoshop, I resized the images (without resampling) to be printed at 24″ wide.  I did a second test resized to a 36″ wide print.  Then, to avoid printing giant images, I cropped a 9×7″ section from the center of each image and printed this on a fine art baryta paper at high quality with my Canon Pixma Pro-100.  What this simulates is a cropped section of what would have been a 24″x16″ print with each camera.  I repeated the test with 9×7″ sections from a 36″ print.  Then I compared them.

The Results

First, let’s look at 100% crops from the center of the image frame.  Click to enlarge the image below to take a look.  The A7R II shot on top clearly shows more detail vs. the A7 II shot, though the actual details resolved are somewhat subtle.

100% crops of the full resolution files.  Click to Enlarge

100% crops of the full resolution files. Click to Enlarge

Now let’s look at the prints. This part is unscientific, but uses simply my own observations, since we view photographs in print with our eyes and our own subjective views, and that’s the whole point of this test.  Is there a visible difference in a 24″ or 36″ print using the A7R II vs. the A7 II?  The answer is yes.  Sort of.

In both sets of prints, upon close examination, the resolution of the A7R II was clearly visible.  Everything seemed a bit sharper, with simply finer detail. However, with the 24″ print samples, the prints became indistinguishable to my eye when the viewing distance extended to around 18″.  That’s it.  Just 18″ away, and the extra detail in the print became essentially invisible.  Since a 24″ print would need you to back up further than 18″ to see the whole print, at normal viewing distances the prints are indistinguishable.  The two compared prints are below.  You can click to enlarge, then click the green arrow to make larger to get an idea for yourself.  I added the text to the images before printing so I could keep them straight.

9"x7" crops of 24"x16" print size - no resampling

9″x7″ crops of 24″x16″ print size – no resampling

The same is true for the 36″ print samples.  Both prints looked fine, but the A7R II print was just a bit sharper and more detailed when viewed close up. The difference is there, but it’s not enormous, to be honest.  The distance for these to equalize was a bit further, but they became essentially indistinguishable just beyond arms length, or around 30″ away.  This, again, is around the normal viewing distance for a 36″ print if you’re fairly close.  Click to enlarge.

9"x7" crops of 36"x24" print size - no resampling

9″x7″ crops of a 36″x24″ sized print – no resampling

The A7R II is shaping up to be a fantastic camera, but the extra resolution may or may not be of use to you for printing, unless you print very large or really like to get up close to large prints.  Where the A7R II’s extra resolution really may come in handy is when cropping.  A significant crop will still yield images with greater than 24 MP, and an APS-C crop will yield 18 MP images.  This means that even heavily cropped images can be printed quite large and retain a very good look to the image, where the same crop on an A7 II may limit you to, say, a 12×18″ print before the print doesn’t look quite as good.  In any case, I think that most shooters, especially those who don’t print larger than around 24 inches wide, should feel good knowing that in most circumstances, the difference in final output is fairly minimal at low ISO.  For high ISO, well, that will take more investigation and more time with the camera.  Look forward to my full A7R II review later this month.  Edit 8/23/15: My full review of the A7R II is now up.

About the author

Jordan Steele

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

13 comments

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  1. Arsalan

    Hello Jordan,

    Good start of the review. I’m looking forward to the full review. One suggestion, in your review please do cover the value of A7rII for a person who already owns A7II (and does not print).

    Are the updates (AF, High ISO, eye AF etc) enough to justify the cost of upgrade?

    1. Jordan Steele

      I will cover all this in depth in my review, but in my early shooting, I think there is very little reason for someone who doesn’t print to choose the A7R II over the A7 II, unless 4K video is crucial. I haven’t had a chance to test 4K yet since it requires a 64GB card and I need to get one.

      Even my own use, where I do print fairly regularly, would see limited improvement, and as such, I have no plans to upgrade. If you’re a landscape photographer who sells prints, however, it does create images with great detail and dynamic range.

      1. Arsalan

        Thank you for the reply. Now I can sleep better knowing that I don’t have to cough up $3200 for a camera body 🙂

      2. AmpCAT

        Any observations on the autofocus speed and performance between the A7II and A7RII? At the moment, that’s the one thing I’m concerned about, and I’ve not seen much in the way of direct comparisons of them. A lot of talk around the performance of the A7RII AF, but not much on how much better it really is, in practice, against the A7II.

  2. AmpCat

    Likewise, I’m interested in the differences between the two for someone who doesn’t print. I do like to crop, but I’m trying to decide if the A7rII is worth almost twice the money, for what seems to be just the higher resolution (almost twice).

    1. Jonathan F.V.

      Old message, I know. If you calculate linear resolution rather than the resolution of the area, the A7RII offers around 1.32x the resolution. It’s a good difference, but it depends the application. I would choose the A7RII because of the much better low light performance (let’s face it, at high ISO, the A7II does just a little better than a very good APS-C sensor), the better autofocus, the better dynamic range, the silent shutter… But both perform well. Both have IBIS. I would love to have the A7RII… But I can’t afford it. I’ll probably get one in two years. For now, I just got a used A7R. I chose that over the A7II because it performs better in low light and has better dynamic range. I wish I had IBIS and a better autofocus, but the better low light performance and more cropping rooms trumps those for me.

      The A7RII is a crazy camera and is worth the money… If you can spend it. If not, then you’re better off choosing a different camera.

  3. Naddan28

    Very interesting, it would be great to see a comparison with the Fuji XT1 too, certainly would test the notion that 16mp is “enough”.

  4. Tim

    Looking forward to your full review. This is a very interesting camera indeed. It seems to the full-frame brother to my OM-D E-M1 with a dash of the M5II thrown in.

  5. Luca

    Hi Jordan,
    you made a perfect choice of prime lens to highlight the body differences, thank you for this test.

    What about using a lower quality glass 24-70 F4 zoom?
    What becomes the new equalization distance for 36′ samples?

    It seems to me that people underestimate this aspect when choosing the “R”: you have to buy only primes…

  6. Jason

    You mention the croppability of the a7RII, and I’m now interested in seeing a comparison of prints from a 24 megapixel crop from the a7RII versus the full size frame of the a7II. How well do those smaller pixels print compared to the larger ones in the a7II?

  7. DOUGLAS DUBLER

    Jordan pretty good review. A few recommendations that might be interesting. #1 Process the A7II files in Capture NX2 via Raw2Nef plugin. It’s a far superior raw processor than anything from Adobe. If your interested in the details I will explain in a private email. I realize that makes a difference between the files but it definitely helps the A7II files. I assume you are processing into ProPhoto color space? Last try printing on one of the new Epson’s P800 or new P6000 using either Mirage or Overdrive RIP. Both of these print at 720 DPI, twice the resolution of Photoshop’s 360.

  8. Carlo Milani

    And about a comparison of big prints among a7 ii, a7r ii and Fuji x/t2 or x-pro 2? it would be a dream…

  9. Anton

    Wow – this is a fantastic review thankyou very much. I own an a7ii and have been battling with upgrading the a7rii or just better lenses and I think for me the only thing in the a7rii I really need it constant eye focus. I can always add a flash and bring the iso down that way (I always try to shoot at iso 100 as the noise above 400 to my eye is terrible)

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