Sony a7R II Pushing the Boundaries

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The Sony a7R II continues the a7 range, being the fifth model of these full frame cameras and the second highest resolution in the ‘R’ model range. The Sony a7R II isn’t just a continuation model, but has new features which sets it apart from the similar looking 24MP a7 II. These include a BSI CMOS, better suited to small sensors and a phase-detection autofocus system which works equally well with native or third-party lenses.

With a a 42MP full frame sensor, in body stabilization and impressive 4K video capabilities, let’s see if the Sony a7R II can be a contender.

Design

Firstly, the body size is very similar to the Sony Alpha 7II. A slightly bulkier body was produced to include the image stabilization system, but it still feels light and compact compared to a DSLR. The body itself is made of magnesium alloy with upgraded weather sealing and a stronger lens mount for big, heavy lenses.

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There are twin control dials, a click wheel which may be small, but still very usable. The shutter button is now on the front, a reshaped grip which feels far more comfortable than previous models. The rear thumb rest helps with gripping the camera and very much needed if you’re used to the width of a DSLR. There’s plenty of dials and buttons on this camera body, but being small, they don’t always feel the most intuitive to use. The rear thumbwheel for instance needs a delicate touch to operate.

There are also 10 customizable buttons and although plentiful, still need more for quick access functions. The menu system although feature packed, isn’t the most well-organised and there’s no custom menu option for your own choices. However, there is the function menu for quick access, but still not as intuitive as systems are used with other competitors.

The rear 3-inch LCD moves up and down, but not fully tiltable which is a shame. With a high quality 2.3 million dot electronic viewfinder, the camera automatically switches between the two views, but is oversensitive in its detection.

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Auto ISO has been upgraded to be more programmable, allowing you to set the lower and upper limits in 1 EV steps which can be assigned to a dedicated button for quick access. Shutter speeds can also be assigned across the range in one stop increments, along with setting a minimum shutter speed. Depending on the setting, the slowest shutter speed is 1/15 which is presumably set to make sure shutter speeds don’t get too low and cause image blur.

Image Quality

The 42MP sensor has loads of resolution up its sleeve which is helped with the in body stabilization, allowing a stop and more below your focal length and a electronic first curtain to reduce shutter shock. There is a silent electronic shutter mode, but it can be susceptible to rolling shutter, banding and some noise.

When it comes to lowlight performance the (BSI) CMOS sensor does a lot of the heavy lifting. Smaller pixels and a high resolution works very well here, with better ISO performance. This equates to almost a full stop of operation over the previous a7R and is almost the best in its range.

Sony’s autofocus system is one of the best out there using on-sensor phase detection and contrast detection autofocus. There are a plethora of autofocus options in the box, broadly speaking five focus area modes, face detection, Eye AF, Lock-on AF and Center Lock-on AF. The Sony a7R II does a marvellous job of tracking with the only area of letdown being in continuous mode with sports, where a DSLR still wins. However, one standout feature is the ability to work with other lenses and still use the 399 phase-detect AF points. Some features are unavailable with other lenses such as Eye AF and the Lock-On AF area and with the video only using contrast detection AF, which means back to manual mode.

Raw files have good dynamic range, maybe not as good as a Nikon D810 which has a base ISO of 64 but better than the Canon 5DS R. There’s plenty of information which you can drag out from the RAW files and the results overall are a good all-rounder between similar Nikon and Canon models.

JPEG’s come out detailed and sharp with good rendering. Sony doesn’t overly sharpened its JPEGs and the results are a happy medium between Canon sharpening and Nikon’s more soft approach. The same goes for noise reduction, which can also be completely turned off.

When it comes to video, the Sony a7R II may not be as fully rounded as the a7S, but there are some unique, appealing features above the aforementioned. The a7S produces 1080p footage from down sampled 4K, but the Sony a7R II captures 4K (UHD) internally with a Super 35mm crop. There’s also advanced video features here as found on the a7S such as Picture Profile color and gamma, S-Log2 profile, mic and headphone sockets, focus peaking and zebra for exposure and focus monitoring. Default shooting formats are Sony’s XAVC S, along with MP4 and AVCHD standard. XAVC S 4K comes in at 30p or 1080p at 60, 30 or 24fps and 720p at 120fps for slow motion.

1080p gives the highest resolution, with the Super 35 footage being a touch softer. 4K Super35 (APS-C crop) also provides better resolution than the 4K full-frame. The video output in total is extremely detailed and for the best quality you want to take 4K footage and downscale to 1080p.

On-sensor phase detection helps enormously with autofocusing, cutting down massively on focus hunting with video. there is some control over the AF system via AF speed where you can switch between tracking one subject or many, with different drive speeds possible. The a7R II is also more depth-aware than a Canon EOS 5DS or Nikon D810 for video. This works fine for reportage and the like, but most serious videographers will still use manual focusing.

 Sony a7R II Sony a7 R
Sensor 42MP36MP
Image stabilizationYesLens only
Af systemHybrid 399 phase pointsContrast AF 25 points
Price $1798$1899

Conclusion

The Sony a7R II brings a lot of qualities to the table covering stills and video, but not without caveats. For everyday use the Sony is superb with a 42MP sensor, but it’s not the greatest with fast-moving objects as in sports. It may not have as many pixels as the Canon 5DS, but the Sony has better dynamic range. However, the Nikon D810 is still king in this area. Then there is high ISO operation, which the Sony definitely bests the other two at. Video quality is fantastic and definitely beats the Canon and the Nikon along the lines of the a7S II.

Altogether, the Sony a7R II is pushing the boundaries as an all-round performer and with the ability to use third-party lenses with autofocus is very appealing. Apart from sports photography, the Sony could be used in a wide variety of applications with a very high hit rate.

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