Sony A7 Mark II Review

Introduction

Released in the fall of 2014, Sony’s A7 Mark II officially releases the original A7. And it debuted as the world’s first full-frame camera to offer 5-axis image stabilization. During this time, Sony released many well-received full-frame cameras to fill out their alpha lineup. And this camera aims to continue the suit. On paper, it promises steady refinements over the original model, mostly in ergonomic changes, and added niche functionality.

And it doesn’t appear to be a complete overhaul in capabilities. But, considering this camera aims to compete against Canon’s 5D Mark III, Nikon D750, Fujifilm’s X-T1, and Panasonic’s G7, can it compete with such minor changes?

In today’s post, we assess its strengths and weaknesses and answer whether it’s still a relevant contender today.

Sony-a7-Mark-II-specs

 

What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Sony A7 Mark II? 

Pros:

Image Quality

It maintains the same 24.3MP Exmor CMOS sensor with an Anti-Aliasing filter as the predecessor. However, the camera’s Bionz X image processing engine is updated, making the camera 40% faster. And it also brings along the updated 14-bit uncompressed RAW format, which provides added detail and total range.

Otherwise, the quality of the images produced by this sensor and processor combination remains mostly unchanged from the predecessor. And in this case, the image quality is excellent. Photos provide a great dynamic range, with plenty of detail.

Sony’s also modified the shutter mechanism with this release. Its predecessor suffered from shutter shock and slapback, which could easily cause out of focus images. However, they’ve addressed that issue with a slight redesign. And the shutter is now well-dampened, and slightly quieter too, a welcomed improvement. The camera also now features an electronic front curtain shutter, further reducing noise.

It provides continuous shooting speeds of 5 fps, the same rate as the predecessor. However, it now maintains autofocus and auto exposure at this frame rate. And Sony’s overhauled tracking algorithm, making the camera far more usable for moderate sports and wildlife. And its buffer depth is also excellent, easily providing over 50 JPEGS and 25 RAW images without sutter.

Video Quality

It shoots 1080p Full HD video up to 60 fps to the AVCHD 2.0 or MP4 formats like its predecessor. But, new for this release is the updated XAVC S codec. Shooting in this codec offers superior data rates of 50 Mbps, which increases quality and reduces noise. But, it’s also a good medium between file size and post-processing flexibility. Compared to the predecessor, which lacked this feature, it’s a substantial upgrade. And one that could easily be worthwhile of the upgrade alone. Otherwise, the image quality this camera produces is good. The footage provides a good amount of detail and ample dynamic range.

It also features S-Log2 gamma, which increases dynamic range and offers more flexibility in post.

It obtains Sony’s Dual Video Recording mode, simultaneously recording an XAVC S movie alongside an MP4 or AVCHD movie. A helpful option to share videos online quickly.

It features Auto ISO, which automatically compensates for changes in ambient light during filming.

It has a clean 1080p HDMI output for use with external monitors or recorders.

It displays zebra stripes for highlight clipping indication.

Low Light Performance

It features a native ISO range from ISO 100 to 25,600, further expandable to a low setting of ISO 50. Overall, low light performance is excellent. And users can expect usable images up to ISO 6,400 or 12,800, with minor post-processing.

Focusing Performance

It features the same 117-point Hybrid AF system, with 99 phase and 25 contrast-detect points, as the predecessor. However, processing improvements have led to a 30% increase in autofocusing performance. The camera also offers both Lock-on AF and Face Detection. And overall, the focusing is quick and accurate for most applications.

The camera also offers both focus magnification and peaking for accurate manual focusing.

Battery Performance

Despite using the same NP-FW50 battery as the predecessor, the battery life has improved. Sony now rates the camera at 350 shots per charge or 100 minutes of video recording, which are suitable for this class.

Display & Viewfinder

It obtains the same center-mounted XGA OLED viewfinder as the predecessor. And it offers the same resolution of 2.36M dots and a 0.71x magnification. While unchanged, the viewfinder remains excellent. And it offers good magnification, ample contrast, and is bright enough to use outdoors.

The rear screen has improved slightly over the predecessor. It’s still a 3.0-inch TFT display, but Sony’s modified the articulation. In this case, it tilts upwards 107º and downwards 41º, which is a subtle change that improves usability. The LCD goes further out as well, and the articulation now works when using a tripod. As usual, this tilt , articulation is helpful when shooting at high or low angles. But, Sony also increased the resolution on the display, moving from 921K dots to 1.23M dots, another nice change. And the display features WhiteMagic technology, doubling its brightness. These changes combine to increase the viewing experience dramatically. And, overall, the display is sharp, accurate, with good viewing angles.

User Interface

It features the standard Sony interface and menus, which are reasonably well-organized and clear. It uses the same folder based approach and two-tiered layout, but they remain rather dense. So newcomers should read the camera’s manual.

It adds an extra custom button over the predecessor, now offering four, C1-C4.

It obtains the customizable Function (FN) menu, which gives you quick access to 12 most used settings.

It offers two Memory Recall user-defined states on the Mode Dial, 1 and 2. These give you the flexibility to customize the camera to your liking. And it also offers four pages, and up to four more can be saved and stored to the SD for backup or transfer.

The camera offers extraordinary customization. In total, you can customize 10 physical buttons to any of 56 functions, which is a notable improvement over the predecessor 46 maximum.

Physical Layout & Ergonomics

The camera uses a magnesium alloy construction, which affords it moderate weather sealing. And it makes the camera quite durable and robust. However, the trade-off is an increase in weight. In this case, the camera now weighs 555g body alone, an 18% increase over the predecessor. But, even with the added weight, it’s still much lighter than a comparable DSLR for easy and convenient storing without hassle. Otherwise, the camera maintains the same modern minimalistic aesthetic. And all of the buttons remain in the same positioning as the original model.

Sony did opt for design changes with this iteration. The main design change comes in the form of a redesigned grip. And thankfully, it’s now both larger than before and far more comfortable. They’ve also repositioned the shutter button, so it lands naturally on the grip, exactly where you’d expect it. And it’s now more akin to the DSLR styling, which makes it more familiar. Previously, it was too high on the camera’s top plate, which made it uncomfortable and difficult to reach.

It offers dual adjustment dials for controlling shutter speed and aperture.

Niche Features/Extras

It’s the first full-frame mirrorless camera with built-in 5-axis image stabilization, which Sony calls SteadyShot. This system compensates for 4.5 stops, which effectively lets you shoot handheld at 1/2 second shutter speeds. And it’s performance increases when paired with an optically stabilized lens. Overall, it’s one of the better-performing systems around, and nearly matches Olympus’ EM-1.

It obtains Sony’s 2x Clear Image Zoom, which allows you to zoom penalty-free.

It obtains Sony’s Multi-Interface Shoe so that you can their attach proprietary accessories without cables.

It has a microphone input.

It has a headphone output.

It has built-in Wi-Fi and NFC, which allows you to transfer images wirelessly and remotely control the camera. However, the firmware only offers basic remote control. If you want more advanced functionality, download the PlayMemories version of the app.

It has built-in HDR.

It has built-in panorama.

The camera supports USB charging.

It offers Sony’s PlayMemories in-camera app store, which allows you to download and purchase non-native functionality. This extends the camera’s features beyond the standard firmware.

Sony’s installed the lens mount from the A7S onto this camera, which is far more stable and durable than the predecessors, which had a bit of play.

Cons:

Image Performance

Due to age, this camera uses Sony’s older generation color science. And that means the default colors tend towards a yellow or green hue, making them slightly robotic looking.

Video Capabilities

Videos suffer from moiré and aliasing in some scenes. But, shooting in S-Log2 helps combat this.

The camera lacks 4K video and super-slow-motion recording at 1080p in the form of 120 fps.

Autofocus Performance

While the autofocusing performance has improved over the previous generations, it still slows as you approach the frame’s edges. And if you move out of the contrast-detect zone, the performance degrades. Performance also degrades in low light at ISO’s above ISO 3,200.

Display

The rear screen isn’t a touchscreen, nor does it fully articulate.

Menus

It lacks the customizable My Menu from newer Sony cameras.

Ergonomics

The back control dial is slightly recessed, making it quite challenging to reach and turn effectively. And worst, Sony’s done away with the big chunky metal dials from the predecessor and replaced them with plastic dials, which aren’t satisfying.

Sony’s also removed the hinged metal doors from the original model. Instead, they replaced them with plastic covers that are easy to break and awkward to open and close.

The camera’s MENU button is still on the left side of the camera, making the menu navigation a two-handed affair. And, unfortunately, you can customize it to another button either.

It uses the same video record button placement as the predecessor. And it’s still awkward to press.

Lacking Features

It lacks a built-in intervalometer for time-lapses. Instead, if you want this feature, you’ll have to purchase it via the in-camera app store.

It lacks a fully silent electronic shutter.

It still uses Micro USB 2.0, not the faster USB 3.0 format. With that, file transfer speeds are rather slow.

The camera lacks a built-in flash.

Sony continues to offer fewer playback functionality than rivals. There’s no red-eye removal, RAW conversation, or crop tools, to name a few.

Is this a good beginner camera?

Yes.

Considering its current price, it’s an excellent choice for beginners and the best entry-point into Sony’s full-frame ecosystem. And this camera also makes a strong alternative to traditional SLRs.

What are the best lenses & bundles for the Sony A7 Mark II?

General Photography:

FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS

Macro Photography:

FE 90 mm F2.8 Macro G OSS

Landscape & Astrophotography Photography:

Vario-Tessar T* FE 16–35 mm F4 ZA OSS

Portrait Photography:

FE 70-200 mm F4 G OSS
Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70 mm F4 ZA OSS
FE 85mm F1.8

Sports & Wildlife Photography:

FE 200–600 mm F5.6–6.3 G OSS
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens

Product & Still Life Photography:

FE 90 mm F2.8 Macro G OSS

Extra Batteries:

Sony NP-FW50

SD Cards:

SanDisk Extreme PRO 32GB
SanDisk Extreme PRO 64GB 
SanDisk Extreme PRO 128GB

Tripods & Gimbals:

Manfrotto Compact Action Aluminum 5-Section Tripod
E-Image 2 Stage Aluminum Video Tripod
Zhiyun Weebill S Compact Gimbal Stabilizer

Microphones & External Recorders:

Rode VideoMicPro

Battery Grip:

 Sony GPX1EM Grip

Is this a good camera for you?

Yes.

And it’s a substantial upgrade over the original A7 with improvements to ergonomics, the shutter, XAVC S recording, and 5-axis stabilization. These combine to make it a worthwhile upgrade for existing users and the better option for new users looking at these cameras.

It also makes a reasonable choice as a hybrid camera for aspiring videographers who also want to shoot stills. With the stabilized sensor, log profiles, and the XAVC S codec, it’s capable. And compared to the predecessor, it’s a compelling upgrade if you’re a videographer and an excellent starting point if you’re looking to jump into full-frame.

In the end, Sony’s A7 Mark II is a notable upgrade over its predecessor. And it is an ideal choice for those looking for an affordable full-frame camera. And it’s also a strong choice if you’re looking for a well rounded and versatile option in Sony’s current lineup. As a multi-purpose tool, it performs beautifully from both quality and technical standpoints. And it remains a relevant contender today.

Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Video Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
3.8

Summary

Sony’s A7 Mark II maintains a fair bit of its predecessor’s tried and true components. But, the updates made, while subtle in many ways, do create a worthy successor. And at its current price, it’s also the most affordable full-frame mirrorless camera on the market.