Gear

10 Thoughts on the Sony a7R II

Tired of reading about the a7R II? You probably just don’t own one yet.

Read on to find out if it’s time to bite on Sony’s megapixel morsel.

1) The battery life is unbelievably poor.

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While I shot five pictures of the camera, the battery percentage already fell 2%. Dismal.

I have to raise this issue first because I cannot believe Sony allowed a camera with such poor battery life to ever leave their factories. It’s absolutely the main detriment to the a7R II, as the camera runs out of power in just a few hours of use. Of course owners can simply carry more batteries around, but having to pack more weight basically defeats the purpose of going mirrorless in the first place.

Within the span of a few minutes I can already see the battery percentage decrease, and this is considering that Hong Kong is quite warm. Put this thing in a colder environment and I imagine you’d have to leave home with a permanent USB wire attached to the a7R II.

If I were to use this just around town it would be fine. But for video or a holiday abroad? Forget it.

2) It’s surprisingly heavy.

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Lok has no problems with his 5d MkIII + 24-70 combo. The a7R II on the other hand…

Okay, so we may have exaggerated a little, but the body of Sony a7R II at 22.05 oz (625g) is far heavier than its predecessor, the a7R, at 14.36 oz (407g). And this is without counting the batteries and lens.

With everything included, the weight of the camera isn’t that far off from a prosumer DSLR. The body is also much thicker than other mirrorless cameras, although it’s still considerably less bulky than any full frame body.

Just a warning, in case any potential buyers out there thought the a7R II is something you can just slip into your pocket without leaving a sizeable bulge.

3) The AF tracking can give many cameras a run for their money.

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Desk jobs require a lot of movement.

Our designer perhaps isn’t running laps around the office, but Sony have done a very good job with the tracking system here. It’s got 399 AF points and they certaintly aren’t lying around doing nothing.

The a7R II latched onto my subjects like a leech—once those parasitic AF points found their target, they clung on tightly even through vigorous movement. This is amazing for getting sharp portraits, as the camera gravitated towards the eyes, ensuring good accurate focusing even with a very shallow depth-of-field.

4) Still not fast enough for lots of action.

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ISO 100, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 @ f/4, 1/1000

I understand this is an accepted part of using mirrorless, but it’s also one reason why photographers should not start lining up to sell their DSLRs. The main issue for action remains the slight viewfinder lag that comes inherent with the EVF. It’s easy to miss shots when you pan or move quickly, as the EVF has to chase slightly to catch up.

A continuous burst mode of 5fps is quite good though considering the megapixel count (and compared with the a7R which had 4fps burst), and it’s very possible to get usable images with the excellent AF.

But every second counts in sports and action photography, which is why even though we can applaud Sony for doing a decent job, nothing beats an optical viewfinder.

5) Still, the viewfinder is big, bold, and beautiful.

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But dat battery life tho…

Like I mentioned above, there is indeed an expected slight shutter lag with the EVF. But that can’t hide the fact that Sony’s viewfinder is indeed brilliant.

This was surprising to me as I never quite liked EVFs, but after using the Fuji XT-10 and this I’m slowly getting converted.

If only it didn’t drain so much power from the pitiful battery life.

6) No complaints about Sony glass.

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ISO 100, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 @ f/2.5, 1/2000

Carl Zeiss previously clarified the differences regarding Sony Zeiss and Zeiss Zeiss lenses, but for convenience:

“Sony/ZEISS lenses are jointly developed by ZEISS and Sony. ZEISS supports Sony throughout the optical design and development process and then tests and approves the prototypes.”

I used the Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 throughout my time with the a7R II, and had no qualms about the quality of the images. Sony may not have the depth of Nikon or Canon, but any user about to dive into the Sony line already knows that.

7) The Canon adapter works amazingly well.

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Maybe this is why Canon hasn’t bothered coming out with a mirrorless camera.

It must be said that with the on-sensor phase detection AF, Sony users can effectively use most Canon EF lenses without losing much in terms of speed. We threw on the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L and it worked perfectly, although it’s interesting to note the colour profile difference between the Fuji XT-10 (which we used to shoot the image above), and the Sony + Canon combo below.

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ISO 1600, Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM @ f/2.8, 1/250

Canon shooters can absolutely consider the a7R II since they also get access to the excellent Zeiss Batis lenses.

8) Focusing in low light can be a surprise.

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ISO 4000, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8, 1/320

This was hit and miss in my experience. It usually managed to lock onto something correctly, although whether or not the intended subject ended up in focus or not is up for debate.

Since this camera does lend itself rather well to slow, methodic photography however, switching over to manual focus isn’t that much of an issue as the viewfinder is excellent.

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ISO 5000, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 @ f/2, 1/250

9) High ISO performance impresses.

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ISO 6400, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8, 1/100

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100% zoom shows clean noise patterns without sacrificing detail.

In Kai’s review he tests out all the technical details including noise performance. Practically speaking however, with a fast prime and ISO performance this good at ISO 6400, I’m already impressed.

10) Do you need this camera?

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ISO 50, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 @ f/2.2, 1/160

After all, this is what it all comes to right?

Bokeh readers who missed Sony a7S II vs a7R II vs a7 II – Which One to Get? should definitely head there first before deciding.

Personally, I’m very torn on this one because I’m extremely impressed by the a7R II, but I’m going to have to say no.

I’m probably going to catch some flak for this, but using the a7R II this weekend instead of my usual D600 has really made me realise that there’s little point in a non-professional using a 42-megapixel camera. The files are so large that they are kind of a detriment to my processing, and I have to resize each one for web use anyway. Also such detail is not exactly flattering on skin blemishes, which has been brought to my attention once or twice by concerned subjects.

Most importantly though, the battery life kills me—the a7R II is so powerful that it’s not practical.

And this is without even mentioning Sony’s menus, which I’m sure most people know by now are convoluted and a mess.

I’m going to hope the a7R III will eventually fix these problems when it inevitably comes out in a year, but perhaps Sony will just pack on more megapixels and more features that drain battery.

Still, if money isn’t a huge concern and you want an amazing new camera to have fun with, the a7R II is certainly your best bet at the moment.