Sony Alpha a7R II Review – First Look

a7RII zeissWe got in our Sony a7Rii Mirrorless DSLR on Tuesday and I had an opportunity to take it out for a spin.  Overall I was very impressed with the camera in many respects.  I think the best way to organize my initial thoughts on the camera are a short list of things I liked and things I didn’t like, followed by some of the photo’s I took yesterday. This is just a brief Sony a7Rii review.

Pros:

  • Weight: The camera was not too heavy while still feeling like a professional piece of equipment.
  • Viewfinder:  The auto switching from rear LCD to viewfinder is a very nice feature, and the viewfinder has a clear field of view and easy to read indicators.
  • Image Stabilization:  The 5-Axis sensor stabilization works really well.  I was able to take photos down to 1/8 sec handheld without noticeable blurring on the image.  I also didn’t notice any floating of the image that occurs with optical stabilization.
  • ISO Range:  The ISO range on this camera is phenomenal, as you will see later in the images.  I took it up to ISO 5000 and needed only minimal noise reduction in post, and much farther than that with acceptable after process results.  I’m really looking forward to trying this camera on some Astronomical Photography.
  • Silent Shutter:  This feature is going to be amazing at weddings etc.  With this setting on the shutter is absolutely silent.  The only noise that can come from the camera is from the focus motor or the aperture control.
  • Lens Compatibility:  The E-Mount on this camera allows it to be adapted for almost any lens out there, EF, Nikon, PL.  Additionally, with an adapter like the MetaBones Mark IV EF-E mount, you can get full functionality out of EF lenses, including autofocus.  How well it works varies from lens to lens, but as new firmware becomes available it will only improve.
  • Focus Assist:  There is a cool feature that is a huge help in refining your focus.  With the shutter button half pressed and adjusting the focus ring, the viewfinder will zoom in to let you micro adjust the focus for tack sharp images.

Cons:

  • Ergonomics:  The camera body is on the small side for my hands, and the front dial is in a slightly awkward place for my finger.  I am sure it will get easier with more use as I build muscle memory for this particular camera.
  • Menus:  If you have spent any time with Sony cameras in the past, I am sure you have struggled to understand the logic behind the way the menus are set up, and the a7Rii is no exception.  Without any real clear categorization of the menus, I spent a good deal of time hunting for settings that I wanted to change, and the manual was not much help in this regard either.  It listed the functions, but does not tell you under which menu and sub menu to find them.
  • SD Cards:  For photos, any SD card of sufficient speed will suffice in this camera, what I struggled with is finding one that would do 4k video.  Buried in the manual are the minimum specs needed for different types of video recording.  To achieve 4k 100mbps recording you need an SDXC card that is UHS speed class 3.  These cards are relatively new to the market and can be hard to find.  It is also not clear whether some of them will work or not as the stated write speed on certain ones is considerably less than 100mbps.  Once I have more time to figure this out I will update you with a list of cards I know will work.
  • .ARW Files:  Sony once again made changes to their RAW codec.  As of this writing the only two ways I know of working with the .ARW files without using conversion software are the free “Phase One Express” software you can download and the new LightRoom CC 2015.  The other option is to get a conversion software to convert the .ARW files into .DNG files.
  • Batteries:  The batteries that come with this camera are small (about half the size of a 5D battery) and have a relatively short life of only a couple hundred photos.  On the plus side, you get two of them with the camera.

Anyway, on to the pictures.  That’s why you’re here anyway, right?

Highlight recovery


I was very surprised at the ability to pull details out of areas that I thought were initially completely blown out.  As you can see in the before image the sky looks completely gone, but after dropping the exposure by 3 full stops the color and detail came back without any noticeable artifacting.

ISO under normal shooting conditions

ISO 5000I wanted to know how noisy the camera got when pushing the ISO higher under normal shooting conditions.  For example if you wanted to keep your f-stop closed down but were working in a location with less than ideal light, or shooting in a venue with low light.

High ISO

ISO CompareI wanted to see how the camera performed at the upper limit of its ISO range.  Clearly there is noise in the images, but given the settings and the conditions that you would need to use them under, the final results are not horrible.  Certainly very usable for those numbers.

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