When I first heard Sony was releasing a new version of the a7, with in body image stabilization (IBIS), better autofocus and new grip, I knew instantly I was going to buy it. I had previously owned the original a7. The original a7 had great image quality, dynamic range and ISO performance but was lacking in other categories such as autofocus, lens selection and start up speed. It was a good camera but just not polished enough of a system for me yet, at the time the system lacked telephoto zoom lenses, specifically a 70-200 zoom.
Even with its drawbacks the original
Sony a7 yielded great results. Most Images were shot on the FE 35mm 2.8 Zeiss. Image examples of the original A7 (click on image for full resolution):
My family planned a vacation this past March to the Cayman Islands. I knew instantly, it would be the perfect proving ground for my new a7II. When the doorbell rang and the FedEx guy dropped off the package I felt like a kid on Christmas all over again. You know that feeling. That camera delivery high you get. I opened up the package like a wild animal and there it was in all its glory… and much to my surprise, it was a much different beast than I had imagined. A full metal beast that was noticeably heavier and better built than the original. Seems that Sony does listen to their customers after all.
Sony a7 II key features
- 24.3MP Full Frame CMOS sensor
- 5-axis sensor-based image stabilization
- Improved hybrid AF system with 25 contrast-detect and 117 phase-detect points
- E-mount with support for FE, E, and A-mount lenses (with adapter)
- Bionz X image processor
- 3-inch tilting LCD with 1.23 million dots (640×480, RGBW)
- 2.36M dot OLED viewfinder
- 1080 footage at up to 50Mbps (XAVC S)
- Wi-Fi with NFC capability and downloadable apps
The image quality of the a7II is very similar to the original. This makes sense since it uses the same sensor and same processor. That is not a negative however, as the original had amazing image quality.
There is one huge difference that comes into play in terms of image quality and that is the a7II’s new IBIS system. Not only does it give stabilization to any prime lens (Sony or any other 35mm lens), but also improves the optical stabilization found on FE zoom lenses. It is truly impressive that Sony was able add IBIS to such a large sensor. It is not the first time Sony has done this as it is implemented in the Sony a99 DSLR (and a few other older Sonys) It is the first time however, for such a small mirrorless form factor. Let me just say: It just works. Sony claims their SteadyShot INSIDE technology in the a7II can compensate 4.5-stops worth with stabilization. In real world testing I was able to get about 3 consistently and sometimes 4. But even at 3 stops it makes a huge difference in low light at what ISO settings you can use. If instead of ISO 6400 you can use ISO 1600, that’s a huge win. The result is a better overall image quality than the a7 when used with prime lenses. With optically stabilized zooms, the difference is much less noticeable, maybe 1 stop. The auto ISO function seems to have improved over the original as well. It now takes into account the focal length, as it always should have (It was a very annoying aspect of the original a7 – it would always set shutter speed to 1/60).
It seems to me that Sony has spent some time in refining their JPEG engine because JPEGs out of the a7ii seem to be much better than the original a7. The RAWs still have the issue of not being completely lossless. If only Sony would fix that, I think it could unlock even more potential with lossless 14-bit Raw, but I think it’s tied to the processor.
Video Quality is very good and pretty much on par with the original. IBIS helps a lot in video and almost seems like you have the camera on a rig at times. It’s very stable when standing still. However when moving with the camera, it doesn’t work nearly as well. The a7II also supports 1080 footage at up to 50Mbps (XAVC S) now.
When compared to the Nikon D750, I would still give the edge to the Nikon but only slightly. The Nikon wins in ISO over 3200, otherwise they are the same. Just keep in mind that when shooting primes the Sony will be able to use a much lower ISO setting due to the IBIS. But with VR zooms like the 70-200, the Nikon wins hands down.
Sony has stated that the autofocus of the a7II has improved about 30% compared to the original. I would agree with this statement. The Sony a7II has a hybrid autofocus system, which means it relies on both its 117-points of phase-detection as well as 25-points of contrast detection. It’s very snappy in single point to point. Its tracking capabilities are also noticeably better than the a7. Both wide area tracking and single point tracking are pretty good in good light. Indoors the tracking does suffer and is still not on the level of a D750. A modern DSLR is still the way to go if autofocus tracking is your number one priority, especially inside and in low light.
Is it possible to shoot sports with the a7II? Sure it is… but mainly outdoor sports. Soccer, Baseball, football. during the day are all possible and easy to shoot with the a7II. Indoors you’ll probably need a DSLR like the D750 or you’ll have a frustrating experience.
Now, I need to mention something that really bothers me and that people always tend to leave out of reviews. Specifically DSLR reviews. This is not specific to the a7ii or d750 but I’ll use them as examples. Yes, the autofocus is better on the D750. It’s much more accurate and faster. However, that’s ONLY if you use the Optical viewfinder of the D750. The Sony a7II (or any modern mirrorless premium camera) is 1000 times better, faster, more accurate than any DSLR (including the D750) when using the LCD screen in “live view”. I want to make that clear because it’s never mentioned in reviews of autofocus or when comparing mirrorless vs. DSLR cameras. Keep in mind the a7II is always in “live view” and doesn’t have a separate system when looking through the viewfinder. You’ll get the same autofocus results on the a7II no matter how you choose or need to shoot it, making the a7II a bit more flexible in that regard.
To be clear if you rely to autofocus to make a living like for sports, journalism or wedding photography, this isn’t the best option for you. You really should be using a DSLR like a Canon 5D mk3 or Nikon D750, but for everything else, the a7II holds its own.
Build Quality of the a7II is excellent. The matte black of the magnesium alloy body looks superb. It’s all metal design is a huge improvement over the a7. Even the lens mount has been upgraded and now is much stronger and much more secure. The only thing I didn’t like is the change to port doors. I liked the originals better.
The a7II also features weather resistance, but this is where I go back to the story of my trip to the Cayman Islands. One day, I decided to walk into the water and take some really cool pictures of the waves with people paddle boarding nearby. Well… bad idea. I underestimated the size of one of the waves and splash! It went over my camera. It was only underwater for a second but it was completely submerged and drenched. I felt like someone kicked my dog. I ran out and swiftly proceeded to take out the battery and use my wife’s blow-dryer and alcohol to get rid of the salt water. After leaving it out in the sun for a few hours, I turned it on and to my surprise. It worked! But with a catch. The front dial didn’t want to change shutter speed anymore when in manual mode. I normally shoot Aperture priority so I was able to use the camera for the rest of my trip without an issue. I was very impressed it still worked at all after being completely submerged in salt water, even if it was only for a split second.
I should mention the great EVF and tilting screen on the back. Well, it’s the same EVF as the all the other a7 models. That’s not a bad thing because it’s great. It seems that they have improved its response time a bit in low light because it feels more responsive. The LCD is also the same specs but it’s much thinner than the original. I worry about LCD sometimes because of how thin it is. It looks great but could potentially be fragile.
The refreshed body design handles very well. The grip feels much better than the original. It’s very comfortable in my mid sized hands. This is personal taste but I love it, but some might not, depending on hand size. You have to check it out in person to know for sure. The a7II’s weight of 556g has increased over the a7 which was 416g and there’s defiantly a noticeable difference. It’s still almost half the weight of the Nikon D750 (840g with battery).
There are a TON of customizable buttons on the A7II. There are 20 separate control buttons and many are customizable through the menu. The C1-C3 custom function buttons can be assigned to up to 56 different function assignments. Personally I set my C1 to ISO and C2 to shooting mode. So I can change modes from single to continuous autofocus on the fly. Some people like back button focus and the AF/MF bottom is perfectly placed for that. I’ve tested it and it works well, but personally I like to focus normally with the shutter button. It’s too annoying to hand my camera off to my wife and she doesn’t know whats going on and why the camera isn’t focusing.
The menu system is the same as all the new Sony alpha cameras from the a6000 to the a7r. It’s really not bad at all and a huge leap forward from the days of the NEX lineup that had terrible menus.
The Wi/fi and NFC work well. It’s pretty limited out of the box but if you download the free app you can remotely control a lot of features and it’s well implemented… The app store is a nice feature to have out of the box. Some apps are pretty gimmicky but there are also some useful ones such as the timelapse. There is even a Facebook app that allows you to post directly from you camera. Neato !
The shutter button placement of the a7II is much better than the a7. It now feels more like a DSLR when shooting and offers a more natural hand position. I loved all the controls and customizations you can do and it makes for a great shooting experience.
If you shoot manual lenses the a7II also features one of the best focus peaking or zoom assist features ever made. The IBIS will work with any 35mm lens from any brand. It’s the only camera on the market that will keep the native focal length since its full frame, while adding IBIS. It makes the a7II by far the best camera on the market capable of adapting and shooting legacy glass with.
The Sony a7 was a pioneer in the camera world. The first full frame sensor in a mirrorless interchangeable lens system with autofocus. Now we have the a7ii that builds on that innovation by adding IBIS to that excellent sensor. This allows for better stills and video. The feature is not a gimmick and actually works well. Other than the IBIS and XAVC S codec for video however, there is not much new added over the a7. But those are huge elements.
I found the shooting experience of the a7II amazing. The all metal body and new grip truly feel like you are holding a quality and refined product. Sony has done an excellent job in actually listening to their customers complaints and improving their product. Something that Sony hasn’t really done in the past. Sony has taken a page out of Fuji’s playbook and has also been better about releasing new and more frequent firmware updates. The a7II firmware is already at 1.20.
Another plus of the a7II over the original a7 is the noise of the shutter. Although it is still very audible, it is a lot less pronounced and much more pleasant sounding.
When it boils down to it, the a7II is a joy to shoot. It inspires me to be a better photographer. Its size coupled with the FE 55mm 1.8 Zeiss means I can take it with me anywhere I go and have both stabilization and some of the best image quality in a small package. It feels refined with little to no compromises made.
The Sony a7ii is going for 1698$ new for the body and 1998$ for the kit.
Buying your gear at the amazon link below helps support epicmirrorless at no additional cost to you.
I’ve seen it used for about 1500$ in perfect condition. That’s an amazing value for what you get. A full frame camera with IBIS.
The question is: is it worth buying the a7ii over the a7 –
Amazon - Sony a7 body that is going for 1000$ right now? That’s really hard to decide. Personally, I think it is. The features the a7II offers and the new design, shutter button and grip make it a worthwhile purchase for me. The a7II is a much more polished product. If I already owned the a7 however, I don’t think I would have upgraded. I would have probably waited for the a7rii to come out and made an even bigger jump.
Amazon - Sony a7 body
At the same time, if you want full frame on the cheap the original a7 is absolutely unbeatable. For 1000$ (for body) brand new there is nothing on the planet that can match its full frame image quality and features. Period. I’ve seen it go as low as 750$ on the used market.
If you’re considering the Sony a7II vs. the Nikon D750. The D750 is bigger, heavier and doesn’t have IBIS; however you will be getting better autofocus (through viewfinder only), better ISO performance, more lighting options and a larger lens selection. It all boils down to if you use your full frame camera professionally or not. And in what way? If autofocus is crucial in capturing that fleeting moment like a bride walking down the aisle in a dark church then the D750 is right for you. If you are just having a photo shoot with a still model or landscape then the a7II is the better option in my opinion. For travel and street I would take the a7II hands down.
The a7II passed my vacation challenge with flying colors. I did learn some tough lessons however – like don’t shoot in the water without a protective waterproof case. It performed beautifully in everything I asked it to do. The IBIS simply WORKS and added a whole new dimension to an already excellent system, with excellent image quality and lenses. Although there aren’t that many FE lenses out there the selection is growing rapidly and every single one I’ve tested proved to be very good in real world shooting. In fact Zeiss recently announced two new prime lenses that look amazing. The Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 and the Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2.0. I can’t wait to get my filthy mitts on them.
Now, I know my review style might seem unconventional. I’m not a technical reviewer. It might be my downfall, but it’s just not in my character. I live in the real world and im just an average consumer of these products. I don’t have a lab and nor do I want one. I don’t pretend to be a professional. I like living in the present with complex human emotions and building relationships through interactions with my subjects be it human or with locations. It’s a hands on approach that doesn’t involve a white wall and cycling through ISO settings. Some might find some value in that as it’s different that most reviews, some might not. I just want to thank you all for spending your precious time reading my reviews. I believe real world results and experiences are more important than theoretical tests. That being said, buy the Sony a7II, you won’t be disappointed, or at least rent it with the 35mm f2.8 Zeiss to see for yourself.
Buying your gear at the amazon link below helps support epicmirrorless at no additional cost to you.
Additional a7II examples (click image for full res. image):