The Sony A7SII Review. The King of The Night gets updated.
By Steve Huff
It seems that every time I sit down to write a review lately it is for a new Sony camera, and believe me, as much Sony as you see written here and all over the web (due to so many new cameras coming from them before the Holidays), it is not stopping here. With the RX1R Mark II on the way within days Sony is like a runaway freight train, except instead of crashing and burning at the end of the road I think Sony is hoping for world domination in the world of Mirrorless cameras. I have to say, their plan is working well for them as I know so many who are shooting with the latest generation A7 bodies these days, and they all love them. The A7II, A7RII, and now the A7SII are fantastic full frame 35mm digital cameras that can do it all. With impressive image and video specs, the new breed of a7 cameras are stunning and surpass the 1st gen A7 bodies by a large margin IMO.
But this review is for the newest Sony in the A7 line, the new and improved a7SII. If you missed the original a7S review, see it here as this will not rehash the things that are the same there.
Empty Swings – A7SII, Voigtlander 35 1.7 Ultron – Click for lager.
After reviewing the INCREDIBLE a7R2, it became my #1 go to camera. It pushed aside my old A7s and A7II as it offered the best of both of those bodies. With the A7SII, Sony’s most sensitive low light camera as well as an amazing video machine, Sony has taken the proven sensor and has now put it in the new body which is more solid, with a better control layout than the previous A7, A7s and A7r. This body is the same as the new Mark II versions, and as I have said before, it is a pretty substantial improvement. After shooting the new a7sII for a while, it was tough to go back to the old A7s body as it felt so much different…not as nice and the shutter button placement on the new body is so much better and natural it is tough to go back to the old style after using the new breed for a while.
But at the end of the day, did Sony pack enough in the Mark II to make it a worthy upgrade to someone who has an a7S already?
Well, maybe. Maybe not. That all depends on YOU and what you want. If you want the new body style, then yes. If you was 5 Axis IS, then yes. If you want even better AF performance and new processing then YES! What you will not get in the new A7SII is a new sensor or better low light performance than its older sibling. It is still the tried and true 12MP sensor from the original A7s, which means low light performance will be about the same and IQ should be about the same. Even so, in my shooting I have found that I was getting slightly better color and pop with the new A7sII, though it could have been because of the lens I was using for much of the review..the Excellent Voigtlander 35 1.7 in Leica M mount.
This particular lens gives a “Leica Look” and it has no issues on the A7RII or the A7SII. It’s small, manual focus is easy and the quality is not far off from the Leica or Zeiss 35’s. When I switched back to the standard Sony lenses, I see the familiar rendering of the original “S” model, unless I used the one Sony/Zeiss lens that also gives this look, the 35 1.4 Distagon. When I use the 35 1.7 M mount, I see images that remind me of the old Leica M9, which is legendary in its image rendering. Nothing like it, even today. That lens can be seen at cameraquest.com HERE. My review of that lens is HERE.
The Color, Pop, Depth and overall IQ of the A7SII is stunning. This are all JPEGS out of camera! EXIF is embedded. I have not seen rendering like this since the Leica M9 ;)
Click them for larger and better..to see them correctly!
Away We Go!
So after a couple of weeks with the new A7SII, and while still owning the original A7s I was critical of the new body, mainly because I have bonded with my original. Yep, it has been here since launch. These cameras are not cheap, so I wanted to see if I would pay the upgrade fee for the SII over my old S Mark 1. Before I get into that, let me tell you what Sony improved in the new A7SII over the A7s Mark 1.
- New body style. The new A7SII now has the A7RII and A7II body style. I LOVE the new body style and prefer it to the original in a big way. It feels more solid, it feels more comfy and the controls are laid out more natural for your hands. a7SII WIN.
- Seemingly faster AF. While the original A7s was the best A7 body for Auto Focus the A7sII seems to step it up as I was seeing slightly quicker auto focus and it still has the uncanny ability to focus in the dark, even when I do not use the Af assist. This is the one Sony a7 body with the best AF performance. a7sII Win!
- Slightly different IQ out of camera. It seems the colors and snap and pop are slightly different, in a good way. Many shots remind me of the old Leica M9 in rendering, just with a crazy ISO capability. Could be the lens choice as Leica M lenses seem to give more color saturation and pop.
- Improved video specs for the video pros. I am not a video guy, but this camera can shoot pro level video without question and I have shot at ISO 200-400,000 and had results I could actually use. It sees in the dark, without question! Video is fantastic. a7SII Win!
Here is what Sony says about the A7SII sensor and BIONZ processor…
“A 12.2MP full-frame Exmor CMOS sensor and BIONZ X image processor work together to enable an expansive dynamic range with minimal noise and notable sensitivity from ISO 100-102400, which is further expandable to ISO 50-409600. Coupled with the large individual pixel size the 12.2MP sensor affords, this camera is well-suited to use in low-light conditions.
The sensor’s design also features a new-generation RGB color filter array, as well as a gapless on-chip lens design. Together, these two technologies enable truly efficient light-gathering abilities that further reinforce the low noise, high-sensitivity design. Furthermore, an anti-reflective coating has also been applied to the seal glass of the image sensor to minimize surface reflections, glare, and ghosting for contrast-rich, color-neutral imagery.
The sensor and processor combination also avail a wealth of performance-related benefits to still shooting, including a Speed Priority continuous shooting rate of 5 fps, or a 2.5 fps shooting rate with continuous AF.
The Fast Intelligent AF system employs 169 AF points (up from 25 points of the original) , which is comprised of 25 contrast-detection points and nine central AF points that have been split into 16 segments each, in order to provide both speed and accuracy in low-light conditions down to -4 EV.
So in a nutshell, the Af is better and faster than the previous A7 body and that one was already the best A7 Af system out there, and the new a7SII focuses without an issue in just about any light I have had it in.
I also have been enjoying shooting in B&W with the a7SII as I find it does very well in this area. These were all shot B&W in camera, all JPEG up to ISO 25,600
1st two with the Voigtlander 35 1.7 Ultron, 3rd with the Zeiss 24-70 f/4 and the last with the gorgeous 35 1.4 Sony/Zeiss
The a7sII is what some would call a “niche” camera as it has a lower megapixel count than what is generally accepted today by pros and pixel peepers. I find 12 to be great for my uses and I would take a guess that 90% of shooters who read this page would be fine with 12MP in the real world as well. Posting images online, making prints up to 16X20 and general use does not require any more than this. I see many friends who just shoot JPEGS casually yet they are using 30-50 megapixel cameras. I see their images on Facebook and as small JPEGS or prints. For that, nothing more than 12MP is needed. If you want to make huge prints on your wall with detail and finesse, you will want a higher MP camera, but for the average shooter, hobbyist or enthusiast I feel there may be more to like from the a7SII than even the fantastic a7RII, but with that said, the mighty a7RII is not that far off in performance from the A7sII when it comes to AF and ISO.
The a7SII focuses faster. It will focus in the dark. It has amazing low light video capabilities and can shoot in places you never could before…of course once you start cranking the ISO past 60,000 or so you will get some offensive noise, but I have images shot at even the max, as a torture test at 409,000 in NO light (only in B&W) just to see what that setting would yield.
High ISO. One strength of the a7s and a7SII both. Same sensor, same ISO capability.
Now if shooting at 409,000 forget about shooting in color. Turn that camera to HC B&W (high contrast) and take a shot in the dark, literally. The image below was shot in DARKNESS. As in, where I stood I could not even see the ocean! The camera, at this setting gave me an image full of noise and grit but at the same time, it reminds me of some fast film I used to shoot. ISO 6400 film, but this is 409,000 ISO! I can see someone doing a very moody portrait session on the beach at midnight, no lights or flash…may not be ideal but could yield interesting results. I am not afraid of grain, never have been which is why I turn off all noise reduction as soon as I get a new camera.
If we step down the ISO a tad…
1st two, 128,000
Color at 256,000 and lit by the moon
25,600 at night…
All samples above were without any noise reduction, zero. All were out of camera JPEG’s, so nothing here is from RAW as Adobe has not updated their software yet for this camera at the time I did teh review. Also, be sure you click the images for the real deal, to see them larger and better and to see the real noise.
Overall the a7SII keeps with the tradition of amazing low light performance, and for me, even after trying all of the others that do well in low light (yes, even the Nikon D750, Canon’s, etc) nothing can do what the a7S series is really capable of. By the time you hit 12,800 on the others you want to stop..with the a7S II you can keep working…yes, with some noise, but you can keep working or maybe even get shots no one else could even dare to try and get. It’s that kind of camera and makes you want to push the crazy limits.
I even shot some personal video on the beach at ISO 256,000 and 409,000 and it was useable.. I was amazed at what it was doing for me in no light. The a7RII was not too far behind, but it couldn’t match the SII in the dark, focus wise or with ULTRA high ISO as the RII stops at 102,000 ISO. The SII can go up past 400,000 but expect serious grain at that level. In other words, the RII is close to the SII in Af speed and ISO but the SII does indeed edge it out in both areas.
But it’s just as good in GOOD light!
So while many feel this camera is a one or two trick pony (low light or video) it offers so much more like class leading AF speed and AF in the dark, it offers 5 Axis IS, it offers solid build and great button placement and amazing video. Oh, and it also does DAMN well in great or good or decent light!
Loving the color and pop of the a7SII files..EXIF is embedded on all images but these are shot with a mix of the New Voigtlander 35 1.7 and Sony Zeiss 35 1.4, two fabulous 35’s for the A7 series. OOC JPEGS!
As with the original Mark I a7s, I see the character and almost medium format look of the files. Many were afraid of this camera due to the 12MP sensor (too low for many) but to the friends I know who bought an a7S, they LOVED it tremendously and created some amazing images with it. Believe me my friends, there is nothing to worry about with the a7S or a7SIi. If you like shooting in low light, or lower than low light, you should seriously consider this camera as it opens up a whole new “nighttime” world where flash or light is not needed. It’s a cool thing and even though other cameras today can shoot in low light or even lower than low light, none of them can do it like this “S” series from Sony. I can only image what they will be doing in 5 more years.
ISO 4,000 with the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 at 1.4 – OOC JPEG, zero NR
But is it worth the upgrade if you own an a7S?
Even after 2 weeks with the a7SII I am still not 100% sure I would spend the extra on the new version. The a7s sells for $2200 and the new Mark II is $3000. That is a $800 difference. If you already own an A7s, then trying to sell it means you will get around $1400 for it and then have to pony up $1600 MORE for the new version. If this is the case, you have to ask yourself if you want the following:
- New body style and control layout
- New 5 Axis IS for image stabilization in video and photos
- Faster AF, best AF in the A7 line
- Better video specs over the original – 4K capable now in camera
Speaking of video, here is the blurb for the new video specs:
“Internal UHD 4K Recording and Full Pixel Readout – Internal recording of UHD 4K movies is possible in multiple frame rates up to 30 fps and, based on the 12.2MP resolution, full pixel readout is possible that is void of pixel binning for higher quality imagery with reduced moiré and aliasing. Full HD 1080p recording is also supported in frame rates up to 120 fps, and both resolutions utilize the 100 Mbps XAVC S format contained within an MP4 wrapper with 4:2:0 sampling. The high-speed, 120 fps recording also enables 4x and 5x slow-motion movie recording with the frame rate set to either 30p or 24p.
In addition to high-resolution internal recording, uncompressed HDMI output also enables the use of an optional external recorder for clean 4K recording with 4:2:2 sampling.”
So you get the 120fps slo motion features as well over the a7s. With the new firmware update from Sony, the a7SII can also shoot uncompressed RAW files. Just what everyone has been asking for.
A7s vs A7sII vs A7rII – QUICK IMAGE COMPARISON for Color and ISO at 25,600.
Many would call this a silly test. I mean, who shoots at 25,600 ISO? Some do, but not many. The a7SII can go on to ISO 400,000+ so 25,600 should be a piece of cake. This was in my office, late afternoon, one light on in the corner BEHIND the dog toy. Each file is from the camera, as a JPEG. The a7RII file has been resized down to 12 MP so it is a fair fight. Click each one to see the OOC file (again, a7RII was downsized to 12MP)
They all look pretty similar showing the RII hanging with the big boy in the high ISO arena, at least at 25,600!
As you can see, the a7S and a7SII are about the same, while the a7RII is hanging right in there! Not too shabby!
So, again..would you buy an A7sII if you have an A7s?
So while I enjoy the hell out of the new a7SII, I do not think I would sell my a7s and pay $1500 more to get the new version. $700 maybe, $1500 no.
If I was new to the a7 family, I would 100% go with the a7sII over the old model simply due to the fact that 12MP is plenty for me, and I prefer the faster AF, and the best low light performance I can get. It’s got everything one would need BESIDES massive resolution. and while the new A7rII is no slouch in low light, its not quite at the level of the a7SII once it gets darker and the ISO gets cranked past 25,600.
Few more images with the a7SII. Even in low or mixed light, the camera does very well. Remember, I have all noise reduction OFF. I use NONE. These are all OOC JPEGS.
My Final Conclusion
Sony seems to be really shooting for the stars as these new Mark II series of A7 have all been phenomenal. Mirrorless is taking off in a huge way. DSLR sales are down, way down..mirrorless sales are UP, way up. I remember when the A7 arrived, the original..many predicted the doom of Mirrorless while I was predicting the slow death of DSLR’s. The slow death of DSLR’s IS happening as many have been switching to mirrorless – some do it every single day and companies like Sony, Olympus, Panasonic and now even Leica are leading the way for those who want a great mirorrless experience with not many limitations.
In the case of the Sony a7SII, the ability to shoot in any light, with almost any lens made and having 5 Axis IS inside with a great EVF and LCD along with perfect button and control placement, well it just makes it a cool and very capable camera. Nothing quite like it out there right now.
If 12MP doesn’t bother you, I see no reason to go for the A7II or RII over this one. With some M mount lenses this guy will give you an almost Leica M9 feel, not 100% but close. The color pops, OOC JPEGS are fantastic and in the hands of someone with uber talent there would be nothing this camera can’t do..well, even today these cameras are not better than a DSLR for continuous AF but I feel we will be there within a year or two, so sports shooters..I’d stick with your DSLR even though these cameras are plenty fast for just about everything else.
With cel phones taking over as the most used camera in the world, us enthusiasts and hobbyists are becoming a niche breed ourselves. Me, I can’t stand using a phone for any real serious shooting. As good as the iPhone camera is, it does not match something like the Sony A7 series or Leica or Olympus or most other serious cameras. I will take a real camera anyway over a phone, and always will. There will always be a desire for REAL cameras and while one day they may get close to extinction, they never really will. Kind of like Viny Records. They are still being made today for most new music releases. Yep, good old records and they sound GLORIOUS and give a much more “real” experience over digital files or CD. Same way I see a real camera vs a phone. :)
Pro’s and Con’s of the A7sII
- New body style, better controls and more solid feel
- 5 Axis IS inside!
- Improved video specs over the original A7s. 4K, slo motion, etc..
- Improved AF speed, also focuses in extremely low light
- Beautiful IQ with saturated colors and 3D pop
- Built in mics for video are fantastic
- Low light capabilities are best in class, without question
- Sony has many lenses available now for the FE mount system
- Almost any lens can be used here, and M lenses work well with the SII
- Same sensor as the original so do not expect ISO improvements or massive changes to IQ
- Battery life not the best, as with all Sony A7 series bodies.
- Price..at $3,000 it is not cheap, but IMO worth it if you want versatile camera that can shoot anywhere, anytime
- No real weather sealing here
- Continuous AF could be improved to get to pro DSLR level
So should you buy an a7SII? Well, that is up to you.
This review was shorter than my normal 7-10K word reviews because this is basically an a7s but with a few nice improvements and upgrades along with the new body style. Nothing revolutionary or mind blowing over the original but still enough for many to lust for and want to shoot with this beautiful camera, and it is a beautiful machine. As I shoot it I think back to just 10 years ago at what we had in the digital camera market and if someone would have told me that today in 2015 we would have cameras doing 4K video, ISO 400,000+ and using live view EVF’s that are actually usable..I may not have believed it. We are living in that future and the choices are here. It’s an amazing thing and I can only imagine what the next 10 years will bring to the digital photography world.
Bottom Line: If you want an A7 body, I’d go for this one or the RII. Both are “End Game” cameras, at least for a few years until the next big thing. I still have the original A7s and love it. With the SII and RII, there would be no situation you couldn’t cover.
Oops! Sony did it again!
WHERE TO BUY?
Both shops 100% recommended by me!
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