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So with this in mind, should you go for the A7 Mark II, or wait for a Mark II version of a different model in the range? It of course depends on what it is you want. If you’re into video, I’d definitely wait for an A7s Mark II or even just go for the original A7s, as the A7 Mark II has serious problems with moire. After this it becomes a question of how much resolution you need, and whether Sony will stabilise a future version of the A7r or perhaps just deploy higher pixel counts for this model. We can only speculate at this point, but the rumour mills are suggesting a 50 Megapixel sensor is on its way.
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Sony’s Alpha A7 Mark II is the successor to the original A7 and becomes the fourth full-frame mirrorless camera in the series. Announced in November 2014 roughly one year after the first A7, it keeps the same 24 Megapixel resolution, adds a deeper grip, improves the AF tracking and most importantly becomes the first mirrorless camera from Sony with built-in image stabilisation that works with any lens you attach.
Sony describes the stabilisation in the A7 II as operating in five axes: X, Y, Yaw, Pitch and Roll, all achieved by mounting the sensor on a floating platform. Sony reckons the system provides up to 4.5 stops of compensation by CIPA standards which ranks it similarly in ambition and approach to the system employed by Olympus in its OMD and PEN cameras. Indeed it’d be natural to assume the Sony built-in stabilisation is a product of the shared relationship the company has with Olympus, but Sony claims it’s a new system. Maybe the new part is it applying to a larger full-frame sensor which is, after all, four times the surface area of the Micro Four Thirds sensors.
Meanwhile the A7 II employs a hybrid AF system like its predecessor with 117 embedded phase-detect AF points on the sensor, but Sony claims the AF speed is now faster and offers better tracking too. The video resolution and frame rate remain the same, but like all recent Sony cameras the A7 II now allows you to encode in the XAVC S format at 50Mbit/s. And finally, the A7 II features a deeper (and tougher) grip with a repositioned shutter release and a new finger dial. I’ve spent over a month testing the A7 Mark II, paying particular attention to the stabilisation and other new features. Find out if it’s the mirrorless camera for you in my in-depth review!
Sony Alpha A7 Mark II design and controls
The first three Alpha A7 models shared essentially the same body and design, but for the A7 Mark II, Sony’s made some changes, and on the whole they’re positive ones. Most obviously the A7 Mark II has become thicker than its predecessors, presumably to accommodate the built-in stabilisation.
At 127x96x60mm, the A7 Mark II is the same width as the A7, but 2mm taller and over 10mm thicker. To be fair much of that thickness measurement is down to the new chunkier grip, but the main body itself is also thicker than before. The specifications also have the Mark II weighing 599g with battery compared to just 474g with battery for the A7. That’s a difference you’ll notice when you have them side by side, but it’s still way less than a semi-pro DSLR like the Canon EOS 7D Mark II. It’s also worth mentioning the Olympus OMD EM1 which measures 130x94x63mm and weighs 496g with battery, making it roughly similar in size albeit about 100g lighter. I’ve pictured the original A7 (left) and A7 Mark II (right) below for comparison.
While I love miniaturisation, I admit to finding the original A7 design lacking in the comfort department. The A7 Mark II’s deeper grip greatly improves the handling over its predecessors, in the same way the OMD EM1 did over the EM5 – and while it obviously makes the camera a little larger, it’ll still occupy much the same space in your bag. Greater use of magnesium alloy in the shell also lends the Mark II greater confidence in your hands than the original A7. I also shot with the A7 Mark II alongside the Olympus OMD EM1 and Fujifilm XT1 and actually found the Sony grip the most comfortable of all, although the Olympus was a close second. So a triumph on the grip, although the downside is the A7 Mark II is no longer compatible with the older battery grip accessory.
I also like the repositioned shutter release out on the grip, rather than perched atop the main body, again something Olympus owners enjoyed when switching from the EM5 to the EM1. Having four custom buttons is also a bonus and makes up for some of the control shortcomings of its predecessors – now it’s easy to have instant access to your most used settings.
Less successful though are the new finger and thumb dials. The unusual tall wheels of the earlier Alphas are gone and in their place are more conventional thin dials with more pronounced indentations. Trouble is, the dials are too small, too flush with the body and the friction all wrong for me. I found it too easy to accidentally turn the dials by two notches or more when I only intended one. This became frustrating as I was always very aware of the process and felt I was fighting against the system rather than it working transparently with me. The mode dial is also small and I never really enjoyed turning it.
This sort of thing is of course very personal and you may love the control ergonomics, but for me they didn’t work as well as they could have. I should however note I find the dials on Fujifilm’s XT1 even worse in this regard. For me, the leaders in dial ergonomics remain Canon, Nikon, and Olympus, the latter at least with the EM1. Sony’s Alpha design team are making steady improvements, thinking more like a camera company rather than a consumer electronics one, but it still needs to study the competition more.
Composition remains almost identical to the earlier A7 models, with the choice of a vertically-tilting screen or an electronic viewfinder. The viewfinder specification is the same as the previous A7 models, so you get an XGA panel with 1024×768 resolution in a 4:3 aspect ratio with a magnification of 0.71x. In use the Sony viewfinder didn’t suffer from any tearing or rainbow artefacts – something I’m very sensitive to – and the image was always large, bright and very detailed. But while the Sony EVF is very good, it’s not the best out there.
I tested the A7 Mark II alongside the Olympus OMD EM1 and Fujifilm XT1, both of which have superior viewfinder experiences. For starters, while the A7’s viewfinder roughly matches a full-frame DSLR’s optical viewfinder in size, the Olympus and Fujifilm deliver an even bigger image. The OMD EM1 manages it because the native 4:3 aspect ratio of the system means the images fill the squareish viewfinder panel, so appear comfortably taller. Meanwhile, the XT1 employs greater magnification to deliver an image that’s taller and wider, making it more immersive overall. Fujifilm also rotates the shooting information to remain upright when you’re shooting in the portrait aspect ratio – a great way to exploit an electronic panel, but something no-one else has done yet.
In terms of the screen, Sony has stuck with a 3in panel, although there’s now an extra white dot for each pixel, allowing a more vibrant image. As before it can vertically tilt to face directly upwards, or down at an angle making overhead or waist-height shooting more convenient. Sony has resisted deploying a fully-articulated screen, which is a shame in my view as they really help when framing in the portrait aspect. Sony has also not seen any reason to switch to a touch-screen, which is a bigger shame as they’re so useful for repositioning the AF area, pulling FOCUS for video, or tapping through certain menus.
The A7 Mark II still does not have a built-in flash or a PC Sync port either (making it less desirable to beginners and lighting experts alike), but it does have a standard hotshoe including Sony’s Multi Interface Shoe contacts to support the company’s range of accessories. The A7 Mark II is also equipped with USB and Micro HDMI ports (the latter supplying a nice clean feed to external monitors or recorders), along with 3.5mm microphone input and headphone jacks. The Mark II also sports built-in Wi-Fi with NFC, which allows wireless transfer of images and supports the company’s selection of optional apps to expand its capabilities, more of which later.
There’s an optional RMT-DSLR2 remote control which is also compatible with a variety of other Sony models, although you can also remote trigger the camera over Wi-Fi using a smartphone since the Smart Remote app is permanently embedded in the camera. There’s a single memory card slot in the right grip side, that’s compatible with SD cards and Sony’s Memory Stick Duo; you’ll need an SDXC card if you want to encode video in the XAVCS format. There’s still no mirrorless camera with dual memory card slots, so if that’s important to you, you’ll need to consider a DSLR like the Canon EOS 7D Mark II or Nikon D7100.
The A7 Mark II is powered by the same NP-FW50 Lithium Ion pack as its predecessors, and Sony reckons it’s good for up to 350 shots with the screen or 270 with the viewfinder. The quoted battery life is short, but your experience may be even shorter, especially if you’re making use of the stabilisation with non-stabilised lenses, shooting movies or using Wi-Fi. For example, I virtually drained the camera after shooting just 73 photos and four minutes worth of video using prime lenses with the built-in stabilisation. The 100% electronic composition of mirrorless cameras always eats through batteries quickly, but the A7 Mark II was hungrier in use than any other model I’ve tested. If you intend to shoot a lot, you will need a backup plan to keep you going all day, either with a spare battery (or two), or being able to recharge as you go.
Like other Sony cameras, the A7 Mark II recharges its battery in-camera over a USB connection and Sony supplies a cable and an AC adapter. Photographers have mixed feelings over USB charging, but I’m a great supporter of it as it means I can effectively recharger or at least topup the camera from my laptop, vehicle or portable USB battery without having to find an AC socket. And if I do have access to mains power, I can use any number of AC-USB adapters I may have with me rather than needing to carry a proprietary charger. Indeed the ability to topup on-the-hoof proved invaluable with the A7 Mark II’s appetite for power. I turned to my Anker Astro Mini portable USB battery on more than one occasion to get me through the day, and on the upside they are a lot cheaper than buying a proprietary spare battery. Sure you need to find time to charge the camera, but I often leave it topping-up between locations. If you really want to charge the battery outside of the camera, you’ll need the buy the optional BC-QM1 AC charger.
But the bottom line is the A7 Mark II comes with an inadequate battery for its power requirements. The bigger grip should have allowed the camera to accommodate a bigger battery. It’s definitely a shortcoming you need to be aware of when shooting with the A7 Mark II.
Sony Alpha A7 Mark II lenses
The Alpha A7 Mark II is equipped with an E-mount that’s compatible with existing E-mount lenses for Sony’s APSC mirrorless cameras along with the latest FE lenses that are designed for full-frame use. At the time of writing, six FE lenses were available, two primes, the FE 35mm f2.8 and FE 55mm f1.8, and four zooms, the FE 16-35mm f4 OSS, FE 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 OSS, FE 24-70mm f4 OSS and FE 70-200mm f4G OSS; there’s also the FE PZ 28-135mm f4G OSS, designed for cinema use.
Meanwhile there are 15 E-mount lenses that are corrected for the smaller APSC frame. When mounted on the A7 Mark II, you can either have the camera crop the frame to the APSC area, or you can capture the full-frame area. Obviously the quality dramatically falls outside the APSC area on most of these lenses, but some remain surprisingly respectable, allowing you to make less severe crops and still end up with something usable.
Sony typically sells the A7 Mark II body-alone or in a kit with the FE 28-70mm zoom. It’s an okay general-purpose model, but like most kit zooms, it’s hard to really achieve a shallow depth of field even at the largest apertures, and if you’re after sharp results across the frame, you’ll also need to stop-down; you can see a selection of what’s possible on my sample images page. For me, the joy of the A7 system is with the primes, whether native FE models, or adapted models.
As a mirrorless camera, it’s possible to create adapters that let you mount lenses from almost any existing system, albeit normally with the loss of auto FOCUS and auto aperture control. The joy of the A7 series over rival mirrorless system is its full-frame sensor means you can adapt lenses without any field reduction. And now the A7 Mark II takes this one step further still by offering built-in stabilisation too. This makes for a highly compelling proposition and I’ll discuss stabilisation in the next section in great detail.
Above: 1/400, f1.8, 100 ISO, Canon EF 85mm f1.8
I should note here though that if you want to adapt Canon EF lenses, get yourself the latest Metabones Smart Adapter IV which will support autofocus (albeit very slow) on some recent lenses, along with auto manual FOCUS assist, again on some lenses. I used the older Mark III for my tests here which gave me AF with the EF 85mm f1.8, but not with the EF 50mm f1.4. Without manual FOCUS assist automatically coming on, I just configured one of the custom buttons to fire it up when required.
One of my favourite combinations with the A7 Mark II is the Zeiss Loxia 2/50 (pictured at the top of this page). This is a manual FOCUS lens, but one that’s natively designed for the FE mount. This means you don’t need an adapter to mount it, and it can also fire-up the magnified manual FOCUS assistance (if desired) when you turn the manual focusing ring. Coupled with the silky smooth focusing ring and reassuringly solid build, I ended up enjoying this lens more than any other on the A7 Mark II, even the FE 55mm f1.8.
Above: 1/8, f2, 100 ISO, Zeiss Loxia 2/50
Sony Alpha A7 Mark II stabilisation
The headline feature of the Alpha A7 Mark II is its built-in stabilisation, which works by shifting the sensor within the body; this allows it to theoretically stabilise any lens you attach, albeit with varying degrees of effectiveness. This is the first time Sony has built stabilisation into any of its mirrorless cameras, although the company is no stranger to the technology, having implemented it on earlier A-mount models including the full-frame A99. But none-the-less it allows Sony to describe the A7 Mark II as the first mirrorless camera featuring a stabilised full-frame sensor – and that’s a pretty sweet combination of technologies.
Sony describes the stabilisation in the A7 Mark II as operating in five axes: X, Y, Yaw, Pitch and Roll, all achieved by mounting the sensor on a floating platform. The company reckons the system provides up to 4.5 stops of compensation by CIPA standards which ranks it similarly in ambition and approach to the system employed by Olympus in its OMD and PEN cameras. Indeed it’d be natural to assume the Sony built-in stabilisation is a product of the shared relationship the company has with Olympus, but Sony claims it’s a new system. Maybe the new part is it applying to a larger full-frame sensor which is, after all, four times the surface area of the Micro Four Thirds sensors.
The important thing is how well it works. I tested the A7 Mark II with four different unstabilised lenses: the Sony FE 55mm f1.8, Zeiss Loxia 2/50 and Canon’s EF 50mm f1.4 and 85mm f1.8, both mounted using a Metabones Smart Adapter III. I also tried Sony’s FE 28-70mm kit zoom which features optical stabilisation. Interestingly when fitted with a lens that features optical stabilisation, the A7 Mark II appears to work with alongside its capabilities, taking care of the X, Y and roll axes in-camera, but delegating pitch and yaw to the optics in the lens. I’m guessing this could work well for telephoto lenses with optical stabilisation designed for their longer focal lengths. I also tested this bunch of lenses with the original v1.0 firmware and following the update to v1.1 which claims improvements in stabilisation.
When you switch-on the A7 II, you feel a very slight recoil – presumably the stabilisation powering-up – and from then on you’ll hear a very faint whirring coming from inside the body. The whirring is much quieter than the Olympus system and barely audible unless I had my ear pressed against the A7 II. Interestingly the Olympus also makes a constant faint whir when you press your ear against the body, but when the actual stabilisation activates you can hear it clearly even with the body a few inches from you. importantly you can hear the Olympus stabilisation go on as you half-press the shutter and go off again a second or so after you let go again. In contrast, A7 II’s faint hum was constant during my tests regardless of whether I had the shutter half-pressed, and even if I had stabilisation disabled in the menus. Maybe it’s a bug, or maybe the whir was something else entirely that needed to run constantly. I only mention it though because of the alarming rate at which the A7 II chews through its battery, making me look for anything that may be consuming it faster than normal.
I’ll present some shots in a moment to illustrate how effective the stabilisation was for the different lenses, but first I wanted to describe the experience a little. As regular visitors to cameralabs know, I’m not the World’s steadiest photographer, and as such I very much appreciate effective stabilisation, especially for carefully framing shots at longer focal lengths. For me even the FE 55mm could prove frustrating on the earlier non-stabilised Alphas for precision handheld framing, and I always enjoyed returning to the OMD EM1 which just made it so much easier.
But shooting with unstabilised primes on the A7 Mark II is a completely different experience: with stabilisation enabled the image in the viewfinder or on-screen floats very satisfactorily whether you’re viewing the whole composition or a magnified view to check the focusing. The latter experience is transformed with the A7 II. If you can see wobbles when composing the whole view, you can imagine how much worse it is when viewing the magnified-assisted version. But now with the stabilisation I could easily switch to the magnified view, ensure the FOCUS was spot-on, then take the shot.
Above: 1/320, f1.8, 100 ISO, Canon EF 85mm f1.8
Manual focusing works best of all with Sony’s own lenses and models designed for its bodies like the Zeiss Loxias. Turn their manual focusing rings and you can have the camera automatically present a magnified view, and better still, if you have face detection enabled, it’ll automatically show you a magnified view of the face without you having to scroll around the frame. This is absolutely brilliant and over time made the Loxia 2/50 my favourite lens to use with the body. It really felt like the technology came together with the combination.
Sadly the older Canon lenses I was using didn’t fire-up the magnified assistance automatically (although some newer ones apparently can with the Smart Adapter IV), so I simply assigned the magnification to a custom button and pressed it when I needed to check the FOCUS. As for whether the stabilisation was more effective with native than adapted lenses? When framing-up a shot through the viewfinder with magnified assistance it wasn’t obvious, but I’ll show some actual comparisons in a moment.
Movies, as you’ll see also really benefitted from the stabilisation. In practice it may not have been as effective as the Olympus system which floats more confidently, but it still made a significant difference to the appearance of handheld clips and their subsequent usability. Here’s two clips filmed with the Sony FE 55mm f1.8 lens first without, then with stabilisation enabled. I filmed them following the v1.1 firmware update which certainly seems to have improved the effectiveness of the stabilisation, but not massively so. Either way, the bottom line is the stabilised handheld clip is usable, but the unstabilised version certainly isn’t.
I also have versions of these clips filmed with the Zeiss Loxia 2/50, Canon EF 50mm f1.4 and EF 85mm f1.4.
While testing the A7 Mark II, I read many early reports about how well the stabilisation worked with different lenses, especially third party and older adapted models. Some said the five-axis was only available with Sony’s own lenses, and mounting third parties or adapted lenses switched to a three-axis system instead. Others reported issues with the initial firmware when using non-Sony lenses. In these situations I find the best approach is to simply test as many combinations as possible and find out for yourself. So with that in mind I tried four un-stabilised primes with the A7 II updated to firmware v1.1 and here’s what I found.
I’ll start with Sony’s own FE 55mm f1.8, a great prime lens for general-purpose and portrait use. With stabilisation disabled, I found I needed a shutter (on the day) of 1/25, or more consistently 1/50 to deliver a shake-free result. With stabilisation enabled, I managed perfectly sharp shots at 1/13 and almost perfect ones down to 0.3 seconds. I’ve pictured the latter below using 100% crops from the stabilised and unstabilised versions and the difference is clear. So I’d say the body provides two to four stops of compensation with this lens. Coincidentally, when testing firmware 1.0, I also found the slowest I could handhold the FE 55mm for a fair result was 0.3 seconds, so no improvement with the update there.
Sony Alpha A7 II SteadyShot Stabilisation (v1.1) with FE 55mm Off / On
Above: 100% crop, 55mm, 0.3 secs, SteadyShot Off (left), SteadyShot on (right)
Moving onto the Zeiss Loxia 2/50, a manual FOCUS lens natively designed for the E mount. This allows the lens to seamlessly activate the magnified assistance, and since it also passes focal length information to the body, there’s no need to manually enter the focal length in the stabilisation menus. Just to be sure I repeated my tests with the focal length entered manually as 50mm and the results were the same. Like the FE 55mm, I needed a shutter of 1/50 for a sharp result and 1/25 for a fair result when shooting unstabilised with the Loxia 2/50. With stabilisation enabled, I could handhold a sharp result to 1/6, but anything slower was very shaky. So in this instance I achieved two to three stops of compensation, falling shy of the 55mm by one stop.
Sony Alpha A7 II SteadyShot Stabilisation (v1.1) with Loxia 2/50 Off / On
Above: 100% crop, 50mm, 1/6, SteadyShot Off (left), SteadyShot On (right)
My next test was with the Canon EF 50mm f1.4, mounted via a Metabones Smart Adapter III. With this combination, I could handhold a sharp result without stabilisation at 1/25. Enabling stabilisation allowed me to capture a similarly sharp result at 1/6, but anything slower was out of the question. So two stops of compensation there, and again one behind the native FE 55mm.
Sony Alpha A7 II SteadyShot Stabilisation (v1.1) with Canon EF 50mm f1.4 Off / On
Above: 100% crop, 50mm, 1/6, SteadyShot Off (left), SteadyShot On (right)
My final test with an unstabilised prime was with the Canon EF 85mm f1.8. Without stabilisation enabled, I needed a shutter of 1/80 for a reliably sharp result, but on the day I did manage one at 1/20 that was fairly respectable, but at 1/10 or slower it was definitely game-over as you’d expect. With stabilisation enabled, my slowest perfect result was at 1/20, but the 1/10 and even 1/5 versions were fairly respectable. I’m showing the 1/10 version below – it’s still not perfect with stabilisation, but the difference is clear.
Sony Alpha A7 II SteadyShot Stabilisation (v1.1) with Canon EF 85mm f1.8 Off / On
Above: 100% crop, 85mm, 1/10, SteadyShot Off (left), SteadyShot On (right)
That last sentence really sums-up much of my experience with the A7 II’s stabilisation: in every case the stabilisation delivered a sharper result than without, but many of them were far from perfect even within a range of two to four stops. If I was looking for a perfectly stable shot, then at times the stabilisation was only giving me one to two stops of compensation. If I was willing to accept slightly less than perfect, then I’d extend that range to two to three stops with a third party lens, or four with a native one. This also indicates the system really seems to be more effective with native lenses than third party or adapted ones, although if you’re looking at 5-axis versus 3-axis, the effectiveness and difference really depends on the particular kind of wobble. Sometimes it will be more obvious than at other times.
In terms of the end-result though, the A7 II’s stabilisation felt quite a lot less effective to me than the OMD EM1. The Olympus stabilisation can deliver perfectly sharp results several stops slower than without, whereas in my tests the A7 II’s stabilisation may have delivered a visibly better result than without, but rarely managed a very crisp image at more than one or two stops difference. Once you were at three or four stops difference the result was always fractionally blurred in my tests.
Again the stabilised version was much better than the non-stabilised one, but unlike the Olympus at three to four stops difference, it was still far from perfect. Is this because the Sony system can’t move the sensor as much as the Olympus? Is the shutter introducing vibrations at the slower shutter speeds we’re looking at (even with the electronic first curtain)? Or perhaps the sheer size of the sensor makes it more difficult? Obviously the A7 II has a much bigger sensor than Micro Four Thirds, and it’s important to note that with four times the surface area you can match noise levels at much higher ISOs. So in effect the bigger sensor (allowing you to shoot more cleanly at higher ISOs) is also an effective stabiliser in practice, but I wanted to make the comparison of the physical stabilisation itself.
But before you go away feeling a little disappointed, I’d like to reiterate how the A7 II’s stabilisation genuinely transformed the framing and manual focusing experience. I found it turned an often frustrating process with the earlier models into an easy and productive one. In this respect it’s a valuable feature, and as you’ve seen it also allows you to film handheld video with unstabilised lenses that’s much more usable than before. What it won’t do – at least for me in my tests – is deliver perfectly crisp results several stops slower than normal. The results will certainly be steadier than the unstabilised ones, but if your experience is like mine, the slower ones still won’t be perfect.
Sony Alpha A7 II auto and manual FOCUS
The Alpha A7 II employs the same hybrid AF system as its predecessor, but with improved algorithms which should improve tracking, and the system is now sensitive to.1EV (vs 0EV), allowing it to better FOCUS in lower light.
So you get 117 phase-detect AF points embedded in a central area, supplemented by a 25 area contrast-based system which covers the entire frame. The phase-detect AF points are far superior for continuous AF, so if you’re tracking a moving subject, you’ll want to ensure it stays in the central area; luckily there’s an option to display a frame on the screen or through the viewfinder that indicates their coverage.
You can allow the camera to choose the AF area from the entire array or a smaller zoned area, employ a variety of object or face detection, or manually place the AF area yourself. The latter is much easier now with the opportunity to program a function button to take you directly to the placement of the AF area, although I’d still prefer to simply tap the desired area using a touchscreen as on Sony’s own A5100 or the Olympus and Panasonic mirrorless cameras.
One of my biggest bugbears with the original A7 was its often lacklustre AF performance, especially compared to snappier rivals (albeit with smaller sensors). Sony claims to have improved the AF speed and in Single AF mode I can confirm there was a noticeable difference in practice. The A7 II may still not be in the same league as, say, the OMD and Lumix G cameras in terms of single AF speed, but it is much improved. Low light AF has also improved, although again the Micro Four Thirds models will keep focusing in much lower light still. But in terms of day-to-day use, the A7 Mark II feels a lot more confident and less frustrating.
Moving onto continuous AF, this was another area which disappointed on the original A7. I had high hopes with the hybrid AF system, but even with the subject centred in the frame I found it couldn’t reliably track a person walking towards me purposefully, let alone any more challenging action. Since then though Sony released the A6000, and the A5100 after that, which boasted the best continuous AF performance I’ve experienced from a mirrorless camera. I wondered whether any of that experience or technology would be inherited by the A7 Mark II.
The answer is yes and no. With the same hardware behind it as the original A7, there’s only so much the Mark II can manage, but I can report it is definitely improved over its predecessor. I found I could track subjects like birds in flight with fair success and approaching cyclists or vehicles with an even higher hit rate, so long as they weren’t going much faster than, say 30mph.
Here’s a sequence of shots taken with the A7 II fitted with the FE 70-200mm f4G OSS at 200mm f4, in the 5fps continuous shooting mode with the AF area locked in the middle. The car was approaching at about 25mph and I tried to keep the number plate within the AF area. I’ve taken 100% crops from the number plate to show how well the AF system is tracking the subject, and as you can see, the A7 Mark II does a fair job. It’s not perfect by any means, but most of the images here are sharp or sufficiently sharp to be usable.
|Sony Alpha A7 Mark II Continuous AF with Continuous High Drive mode using FE 70-200mm at 200mm f4|
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A quick note on AF area selection: the A7 II now offers a Lock On option which can be used to track subjects within the phase detect area and technology geeks will love to see the clusters of tiny AF points following it around on-screen or in the viewfinder. But this mode seems to prioritise subjects based on distance rather than, say, colour or shape, and in my tests when I aimed at people, bikes or cars, generally focused on the ground in front of them.
This AF option did however work better with subjects like birds against a plain sky. I tried it with the swooping seagulls of my home town Brighton and it did a fair job at keeping them in FOCUS, despite their unpredictable motion. It wasn’t anywhere in the same league as, say, the Canon EOS 7D Mark II which I was testing at the same time, but again it was an improvement over the original A7.
If your subject is human, go for face detection as this works much better. Once the camera locks-onto a face, it’ll ignore anything in front or behind it, allowing you to track people with fair success. But for fairly predictable motion, I found myself relying mostly on the single area modes and just taking care to keep the AF frame over the subject.
So overall the continuous AF is an improvement over the original A7, allowing me to track subjects like people, bikes and slow vehicles with fair success, and also using the camera’s full drive speed of 5fps. Subjects moving faster, or beyond the phase detect area however are out-of-reach. I enjoyed a higher degree of success, not to mention speed and flexibility with Sony’s own A6000 which can track fast subjects pretty much anywhere on the frame and at speeds up to 11fps. The A6000 is the camera I’d recommend to anyone wanting to shoot sports with a mirrorless camera, and if you prefer a DSLR, I’d go for a Canon EOS 7D Mark II. Of course neither has a full-frame sensor, so you have to weigh-up your priorities.
The good news for now is the A7 Mark II delivers a superior AF experience to its predecessor across the board: speed, low light, AF area placement and continuous AF all improved. But I dearly hope Sony can deliver the A6000’s performance in a full-frame body soon.
Before concluding this section, I’d like to talk about manual FOCUS assistance as it’s one of the highlights of the camera. The beauty of full-frame mirrorless is being able to adapt a wealth of third party lenses without any field reduction, and now with the A7 II you’ll enjoy some degree of stabilisation with them too. But if you can’t FOCUS them easily, the capability to adapt becomes a lot less compelling.
Luckily Sony has this side of things covered with an optional magnified view and FOCUS peaking – both at the same time if you like. If you’re using an adapted lens, you’ll probably need to assign the magnified FOCUS assist option to one of the custom buttons, after which you can fire it up as required, but if you’re using a native (F)E lens the FOCUS assist can start automatically as soon as you turn the manual focusing ring. Once you’re in the magnified view you can easily scroll around using the controls, but if you have face detection enabled, the camera automatically starts with a magnified view of the person’s face regardless of their position on the frame.
This works brilliantly in practice and is one of the first cases I cite to those who insist optical composition is superior in every way. With the A7 Mark II I can fit any lens and nail the FOCUS with the combination of magnification and peaking, whether framing with the screen or electronic viewfinder. If it’s a native lens, the FOCUS assist kicks-in as soon as I turn the manual focusing ring, and again if face detection is enabled, I’m shown the person’s face straightaway.
Of course all of this was possible with the original A7, but what makes it even better now is the view becomes stabilised on the Mark II even with unstabilised prime lenses. Previously I found the magnified view wobbled too much with unstabilised lenses, but now it’s nice and steady, allowing me to quickly nail the FOCUS. Indeed the combination of all these technologies made the Zeiss Loxia 2/50 my favourite lens to use on the A7 Mark II. It’s a manual FOCUS lens, but as it’s native to the system, the focusing ring can fire-up the FOCUS assistance as you start turning it. With face detection presenting the face, FOCUS assist magnifying it, peaking highlighting the area in FOCUS and stabilisation keeping it all steady, manual focusing with the A7 Mark II is an absolute dream.
Note: I believe automatic FOCUS assist will even work with certain Canon lenses mounted via the Metabones Smart Adapter IV, although I only had older lenses and the Mark III adapter during my tests with the A7 Mark II. If I have any experiences with other combinations I’ll update this page.
Sigma Art 35mm f1.2 / 14-24mm f2.8 review: TRANSFORM Sony and Lumix S!
Sony Alpha A7 Mark II shooting modes
The Alpha A7 Mark II shares the same shooting modes and options as its predecessor, so I’ll refer you to my original Sony Alpha A7 review if you’re interested in all the details. But briefly here I’ll mention the Mark II offers a shutter speed range of 30 seconds to 1/8000 with a Bulb option and a fastest flash sync of 1/250. AEB is available in three to five frames with increments of 0.3 to 3EV. There’s also a selection of picture effects and a panorama option.
Sony A7 II vs Sony A7 Comparison
In this review, we will be comparing the Sony A7 II with the camera that it replaced, the Sony A7, list out what is new, its advantages over its predecessor and finally try to conclude if the A7 II is a worthy upgrade to the A7. Sony A7 II was introduced to the market in November 2014 and Sony A7 was launched in January 2014 so it will be interesting to see how much difference this 10 months between the two cameras make.
A7 II and A7 are members of Sony’s A7 series of cameras. Below you can find the latest models from this series.
|Sony A7R V||2022||61.0MP. Full frame|
|Sony A7 IV||2021||33.0MP. Full frame|
|Sony A7 III||2018||24.0MP. Full frame|
|Sony A7 II||2014||24.0MP. Full frame|
|Sony A7||2014||24.0MP. Full frame|
Here is a brief look at the main features of the Sony A7 II and Sony A7 before getting into our more detailed comparison.
Sony A7 II Key Specs
- Announcement Date: 2014-11-20
- 24MP. Full frame CMOS Sensor
- ISO 100. 25600 ( expands to 50. 51200)
- Sony E Mount
- Sensor-shift Image Stabilization
- 3.00″ Tilting Screen
- 2359k dot Electronic viewfinder
- 5.0fps continuous shooting
- Full HD. 1920 x 1080 video resolution
- Built-in Wireless
- 599g. 127 x 96 x 60 mm
- Weather-sealed Body
- Replaced Sony Alpha 7 Compare
Sony A7 Key Specs
- Announcement Date: 2014-01-22
- 24MP. Full frame CMOS Sensor
- ISO 50. 25600
- Sony E Mount
- 3.00″ Tilting Screen
- 2359k dot Electronic viewfinder
- 5.0fps continuous shooting
- Full HD. 1920 x 1080 video resolution
- Built-in Wireless
- 474g. 127 x 94 x 48 mm
- Weather-sealed Body
Sony A7 II was replaced by Sony Alpha A7 III. You may also be interested in these comparisons: Sony Alpha A7 III vs Sony Alpha A7 II Sony Alpha A7 III vs Sony Alpha A7
Let’s read on in the following sections in order to better understand in detail how the Sony A7 II and Sony A7 compare and hopefully end up with enough arguments to decide which one is better for you.
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Size and weight are big decision factors when you are trying to find the ideal camera for your needs. In this section, we are going to illustrate the Sony A7 II and Sony A7 side-by-side from the front, back and top in their relative dimensions. Sony A7 II has external dimensions of 127 x 96 x 60 mm (5 x 3.78 x 2.36″) and weighs 599 g (1.32 lb / 21.13 oz) (including batteries). Sony A7 has external dimensions of 127 x 94 x 48 mm (5 x 3.7 x 1.89″) and weighs 474 g (1.04 lb / 16.72 oz) (including batteries).
Below you can see the front-view size comparison of the Sony A7 II and the Sony A7.
Here is the back view size comparison of the Sony A7 II and Sony A7.
Weight is another important factor, especially when deciding on a camera that you want to carry with you all day. Sony A7 is significantly lighter (125g ) than the Sony A7 II which may become a big advantage especially on long walking trips.
Also keep in mind that body weight is not the only deciding factor when comparing two interchangeable camera bodies, you also have to take into account the lenses that you will be using with these bodies. Since both Sony A7 II and Sony A7 have the same Sony E lens mount and Full frame sized sensors, lenses will not be a differentiator on total size of the system.
Both the A7 II and the A7 have weather sealings in their bodies, making them resistant to water and dust.
LCD Screen Size and Features
Sony A7 II and Sony A7’s LCD screens have the same diagonal size of 3.00 inches.
Both cameras feature Tilting screens where you can change the angle of the screen to make it easier to shoot from waist or over-the-head levels.
Both Sony A7 II and Sony A7 have Full frame sized 24.0 MP resolution sensors so sensor size and resolution is not a differentiator between these two cameras.
Below you can see the A7 II and A7 sensor size comparison.
Sony A7 II and Sony A7 have the same sensor sizes so they will provide same level of control over the depth of field when used with same focal length and aperture.
DxOMark Sensor Scores At Camera Decision, we also look at Dxo Mark sensors when available as we think it is a good indicator of image quality.
|Sony A7 II||90||24.9 bits||13.6 Evs||2449 ISO|
|Sony A7||90||24.8 bits||14.2 Evs||2248 ISO|
The number of available lenses is a big deciding factor when choosing your interchangeable lens camera. In this case, both Sony A7 II and Sony A7 have the same Sony E lens mount so have 194 native lenses available. All of these lenses cover Full frame sensor.
Another important factor is the availability of image stabilization. Sony A7 II has a big advantage in this regard because it has a sensor based image stabilization (IS) which means that all the lenses mounted to this body will be stabilized. A7 II’s built-in Image stabilization system is effective for compensating vibration up to 4.5-stops according to CIPA standards. On the other hand, Sony A7 doesn’t have this feature so you have to buy a lens with optical stabilization feature. Currently there are 38 lenses for Sony E mount with Optical Image Stabilization features.
|Standard Zoom||19 (14 Full Frame)||19 (14 Full Frame)|
|Standard Prime||34 (21 Full Frame)||34 (21 Full Frame)|
|Wideangle Zoom||14 (11 Full Frame)||14 (11 Full Frame)|
|Wideangle Prime||59 (40 Full Frame)||59 (40 Full Frame)|
|Telephoto Zoom||18 (16 Full Frame)||18 (16 Full Frame)|
|Telephoto Prime||26 (20 Full Frame)||26 (20 Full Frame)|
|SuperZoom||10 (2 Full Frame)||10 (2 Full Frame)|
|Wideangle Fisheye Prime||2 (0 Full Frame)||2 (0 Full Frame)|
|Macro Prime||9 (8 Full Frame)||9 (8 Full Frame)|
|Perspective Control Prime||2 (2 Full Frame)||2 (2 Full Frame)|
|Telephoto Mirror Prime||n/a||n/a|
|TOTAL||194 (134 Full Frame)||194 (134 Full Frame)|
Here are some of the most popular Sony E Mount Lenses on Camera Decision:
|Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G OSS (Check Size: )||Amazon BH Photo|
|Sony FE 90mm F2.8 Macro G OSS (Check Size: )||Amazon BH Photo|
|Sony FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM (Check Size: )||Amazon BH Photo|
|Sony FE 200-600 F5.6-6.3 G OSS (Check Size: )||Amazon BH Photo|
|Sony FE 50mm F1.8 (Check Size: )||Amazon BH Photo|
|Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM (Check Size: )||Amazon BH Photo|
|Samyang AF 135mm F1.8 FE||Amazon BH Photo|
|Sony FE 35mm F1.8 (Check Size: )||Amazon BH Photo|
In this section, we rank and compare Sony A7 II and Sony A7 for five different photography types in order to make your decision process easier in case you are specifically interested in one or more of these areas.
Sony A6500 vs. Sony A7II comparison – which one is the smarter choice?
With the Sony A6500, Sony has entered the terrain of semi-professional crop cameras. The camera is significantly higher priced than other Sony APS-C cameras, and is directly competing with other smaller format flagship cameras like Fuji X-T2, Nikon D500, Olympus OMD-EM1 Mk2 or the Canon Eos 7D Mk2.
Furthermore, the Sony A6500 is now similarly (or even higher) priced than the Sony A7II. This leaves open the question for many people as to whether they should really spend that much on an APS-C camera, or if they should get a full frame body instead. The comparison is obvious, and legitimate, because the cameras share a few key specifications – like sensor resolution, mount, and sensor stabilization. Let’s check what sets these cameras apart from each other.
The obvious differences
Size and Ergonomics
The Sony A7II is a substantially bigger camera. This is good and bad at the same time. Of course, the A6500 can disappear more easily in your and adds less heft to the kit, but it really lacks at least 2-3 additional control elements.
As an engineer, who knows controlling restrictions and modular development, I can understand Sony’s intention to use basically the same body style for all A6XXX cameras. This saves a lot of costs and speeds up the release cycles.
As a photographer, I am really disappointed about the decision not to update the body. The A6000 design was okay for a mid range camera, but it really falls behind when I compare it to all other APS-C flagship cameras and also all A7 models. I think that an exposure compensation dial is essential these days because it speeds up operation significantly and the current value is always visible.
Nevertheless, there are a few substantial features that Sony was able to introduce into the line with the A6500 despite staying within these design restrictions (compared to the A6000/A6300):
- Larger grip (Seems like a transplant of the Sony A7II grip)
- Additional custom button (like the one introduced in the A7 generation II). Both custom buttons are now on the top plate of the body
- Bigger shutter button
- Softer eyecup
What does the A7II offer over the A6500?
- Exposure compensation wheel (. )
- One more custom button
- One more wheel (essential in M mode to have direct dials for ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed)
- The display of the A7II has a 3:2 aspect ratio (A6500 – 16:9) which offers visibly more space for photography applications.
- Slightly larger viewfinder (0.71 vs. 0.70)
What does the A6500 offer over the A7II?
The compensation dial and the third wheel are important arguments for the A7II in terms of usability and workflow. In comparison to the A6500, the access to important functions of the A7II feels much more direct and flexible. It’s a pity that Sony didn’t introduce a more mature and professional design for such an expensive camera like the A6500, and this leaves me with a feeling of disappointment.
One important aspect of ergonomics is the bodystyle itself. The rangefinder design of the A6500 is nice to use if you prefer to shoot with the right eye but pretty much unusable if you like or have to shoot with the left eye, especially in combination with the touchscreen.
Autofocus, Speed and Action
Speed is the headline feature of the A6500. The camera uses the same sensor as the A6300 and features a new “front end LSI”. The latter is a marketing term for a co-processor that supports the BionzX processor. What you need to know is that the processor should improve a few functions of the camera.
First, the high ISO performance should be improved although the DXO sports value of the A6500 is lower than the one of the A6300. I think this affects just the JPEGs and is not that interesting for many people.
important is that the camera can buffer 107 RAW images instead of 21 RAW images compared to the A6300. The A6300 was meant as an action/sports camera but it could fire just two seconds at max burst speed. With the bigger buffer of the A6500, it is much more likely to capture the decisive moment.
In terms of speed, the A6500 runs circles around the A7II. The A6500 has a more than five times bigger buffer size (107 RAW images vs. 20 RAW images) and takes more than twice as many pictures in the same tame (11 fps vs. 5 fps).
The AF system is also quite different. Although both cameras have a ridiculous number of phase detection FOCUS points (A6500: 425, A7II:117), the A6500 features more advanced (“4D”-)tracking options as well as Eye-AF. There is a big difference in terms of FOCUS speed, in AF-S mode as well as in AF-C mode. The superiority was obvious in many real life situations although I have the feeling that the AF-C has improved more than the AF-S. In my opinion, the AF still doesn’t feel DSLR-like in terms of reliability but has greatly improved.
One big feature for action photography, that was introduced with the A6300, is the reduced-lag viewfinder operation in continuous shooting. The camera displays a live view image between the shots which helps to keep up with the moving subject while tracking. This reduces the blackout but i s not on par with DSLRs or even the new A9.
The touchscreen is one of the most important new features of the Sony A6500. Sony understands the touchscreen as an additional control element, not as an replacement. Therefore, the functionality of the touchscreen is neither providing a smartphone-like experience nor replaces the usage of physical controls in general.
After using it for four months, I have mixed feelings about it. In general, the Touchscreen is a welcome addition because the user gains at least one more free customizable button. I can also live with it’s limited functionality. Generally, I like the direct control over the FOCUS spot as well as the moving of the FOCUS spot when the viewfinder is in use.
Nevertheless, I think that Sony should have spent some more time to improve the implementation. The competition does a better job here with more features. The moving of the FOCUS spot with the viewfinder on the eye feels very laggy (even with the latest firmware) and it happens way too often that one corner of the touchscreen gets touched by the cheeks in portrait orientation accidentally. I’ve even lost a number of shots in a wedding shoot because of this issue.
Sensor Size and Legacy Lenses
If you want to use legacy 35mm film lenses, I would always recommend using the A7II, because the lower pixel density is less demanding (and you get better per pixel sharpness), because you can use the full image circle and you can get a decent performing legacy setup for wider angles. I don’t, however, recommend (with a few expensive exceptions) legacy lenses below 20mm: modern options just perform a lot better in that range, especially on crop cameras.
If you need the highest possible level of subject isolation, a full frame camera is also inevitable. There is simply no crop equivalent for a 2.8/24-70 (over the full range of focal lengths), a 1.4/35, a 1.4/85 and obviously not a 0.95/50.
I don’t do video at all, but the A6500 will be a much better tool for that task. (4k, touchscreen, better AF, …)
I don’t want to discuss this aspect too extensively, but it’s obvious that Sony hasn’t announced a single APS-C photo lens since mid 2013. That means, that Sony doesn’t really care about the APS-C lineup or is convinced about the cross-compatibility of FE lenses.
It makes sense to use FE telephoto lenses and also some primes (I’d definitely recommend the FE 1.8/85 for the a6500 for example) but in my opinion a 2.8/16-50 as well as some more compact f/1.4 primes are serious lacks. This is even more relevant since Sony has put the A6500 in a higher price category to compete with the best crop cameras out there but it doesn’t offer a lens lineup which can compete on the same level.
The FE lens lineup on the other hand grows by about a lens a month and one exciting lens follows the next one. There are even a few Sony-exclusive gems that set the FE-system apart from the competition (Loxia 2.8/21 and Sony 4/12-24 for example). If you are looking for the best lenses and want to use them in their native scope, the A7II or even the a7rii is the way to go.
One last thing to keep in mind is that the Sony E-lenses (APS-C) are generally a bit smaller, lighter and cheaper than the Sony FE-lenses. Although I don’t think that the APS-C lineup is nearly as complete as the crop lens lineup of the competitors, there are a few decent and fair priced APS-C primes like the Sony E 1.8/35 OSS and the Sony E 1.8/50 OSS which are Smart choices. The gem of the APS-C lineup is the Sony 1.8/24 ZA which pairs good optical quality with fast AF and spectacular close up capabilities.
The not so obvious differences
I refer to DXOmark in that chapter, because it mostly reflects what I see in practical usage.
At base ISO, the dynamic range of the sensors is equally impressive and very good for any type of landscape applications.
At higher ISOs, the full frame sensor pulls ahead in terms of noise performance, this becomes especially visible when the shadows of the RAW images are pushed.
I think it’s noteworthy that the pixel density of the Sony A7II is much lower. The camera is therefore much less demanding in terms of lenses. In many cases, the same lens needs to be stopped down one or two stops to achieve the same level of sharpness on the A6500 as on the Sony A7II.
One last subjective aspect is that I can achieve pleasant colors with my Sony A7II more easily. It could also be possible that I am just more used to that camera.
The A6500 features a redesigned menu system. It’s a bit better but I don’t see a huge improvement. It would not be a reason for me to decide for or against the camera.
Useful improvements of the A6500
Sony improved a few small but really useful things that they didn’t talk much about.
- The camera can detect now if the screen is tilted – This is great because it deactivates the eye sensor when this is the case. Using the A6500 on a tripod or in front of the belly is much more convenient, because it doesn’t turn off the LCD when the hands get close to the eyecup.
- Spot metering with FOCUS point link – The camera can meter exactly on the spot that is currently used for FOCUS. This is a really great addition and makes the metering in dynamic situations much more reliable. Great for portraits, because the face always has the correct brightness level.
- Highlight metering – The camera exposes the highlights of the frame exactly – no blown out highlights. This works well, but you have to work with the images in t
- Bluetooth – GPS was an often seen feature of Sony A-mount cameras a few years ago, but disappeared after the A77. The A6500 enables geotagging with the help of a mobile phone. The camera is able to transmit the GPS position and also the correct date of the mobile device and uses Bluetooth for that. That worked well but the Playmemories app always showed that the camera is missing when my camera was not in reach.
- Autofocusing during FOCUS magnification – The A6500 is able to use autofocus when enlarging a part of the image with the FOCUS magnification. Could be useful for some macro shooters that don’t like MF or have slightly moving targets.
- External Powering – The Camera can be used while it gets charged via USB. This is handy for timelapse and long exposure work.
Additional functionality over the A7II that was introduced with other cameras
- Silent Shutter – I have marked this in bold, because it is a real game changer for many types of photography, especially for wedding, portrait, wildlife and street photography. In my case, it was great to take pictures of my sleeping baby because he never woke up. This feature worked flawless most of the time. Interestingly, the best man of a bridal pair became nervous because he thought that I am not taking pictures during the wedding ceremony. People are still used to the shutter noise and it is still a kind of feedback to the model. Therefore, I prefer the silent shutter when I want to be invisible as a photographer. The only issue that I have encountered was banding under artificial light, a well known problem.
- Auto ISO – The original implementation (A7, A7II) of Auto ISO by Sony was a joke. The camera just rested at 1/60 no matter what focal length was used. With the A6500, maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed can be customized. Real Auto ISO, not just a placeholder for a missing function like in the A7II
- detailed bracketing features
Sony A7R V for PHOTOGRAPHY review: 61MP, Pixel Shift, AI Autofocus
Exclusive functions of the A7II
Okay, this one is a short chapter. The A7II has 1/8000 maximum shutter speed while the A6500 has just 1/4000. This can be sometimes limiting on bright days with fast lenses.
My favorite Setup (Sony A6500)
I have pointed out before, that the Sony A6500 misses some direct dials that the Sony A7II has. Nevertheless, (thanks to Auto ISO) the following configuration worked pretty well for my everyday (mostly portraiture) photography:
- Shooting mode: A
- Top wheel: Aperture value
- Back wheel: Exposure compensation
- ISO: Auto ISO
- C1: Auto ISO minimum shutter speed
- C2: Focus Magnification
- C3: Steady Shot
- Zebra: 100
- Metering: Spot M
- Metering coupled with Spot
- AF: Spot M or Zone
The Sony A7II and the Sony A6500 are currently quite similarly priced but the comparison showed, that the cameras are very different. The image quality is quite comparable with a small advantage going to the Sony A7II. In my opinion, you should FOCUS on other aspects if you need to decide between both.
Get the A7II if you.
- … are a left eyed shooter
- … you use manual lenses most of the time
- … prefer to have more external controls without using the menu
- … need the maximum amount of subject isolation
- … shoot very often at high ISOs
- … want to make full use of the exciting FE lens lineup (Exciting lenses like the Loxia 2.8/21, the Voigtländer 5.6/10 and the 4/12-24 are not that exciting anymore on a crop body)
Get the A6500 if you
- … shoot action, sports, etc. and want a small mirrorless camera (Otherwise, I believe that a DSLR or an SLT is still the weapon of choice, and the A9 is in a different league)
- … are looking for a smaller camera or a smaller system
- … are tired of many of Sony’s initial design quirks (Auto ISO, menu system, metering)
- … don’t want to read “Writing to memory card, unable to operate”!!
- … want an alternative to the sluggish FOCUS point selection
- … need a silent shutter
- … need an allround camera for every task
- … don’t have a big lens budget but need AF
- … need an internal flash
I’ve bought the camera for two reasons:
- My A7II couldn’t keep up with my baby who was moving around all of the time.
- I was searching for faster and more reliable AF for my portrait and studio photography
- I needed a second body for a 5 week trip to Italy (all images in that post were taken on that trip)
- To get a reliable workhorse for documentations (events, weddings, etc…)
My impression after five months of usage is that the A6500 is an extremely capable and satisfying camera. It feels much more modern and responsive than the Sony A7II. It is a pleasure to use it and I greatly prefer it to my Sony A7II whenever the subject starts to move. The image quality is great for an APS-C camera and I like the landscape and portrait shots that I have taken with it so far.
When it comes to pure landscape photography or creative photography in general, I prefer the bigger body of the Sony A7II and the manual controls on it. Furthermore, the Sony A7II (or any other FE camera) is irreplaceable for my photography with manual lenses.
Nevertheless, I still have the feeling that the Sony A6500 is the right camera in the wrong body. I can see the improvements of the A6500 over the A6300, but the differences are way too small in my opinion. The A6500 is targeted at (semi-)professional photographers but still caged in a smallish and not so ergonomic body.
The lack of a dedicated exposure compensation dial is especially frustrating for my type of photography. Furthermore, the touchscreen implementation has so much potential, but is frustrating to use in the real world. A joystick (such as can be found in the Sony A9 or the Fuji X-T2) would have been a better choice. I can’t get rid of the feeling that Fuji (X-T2) and Olympus (OMD-EM1 Mk2) have put more love and effort into their crop flagship cameras. This also shows in the limited and aging E-lens (APS-C) lineup.
Regarding the AF, I have a significantly higher rate of keepers and more great snapshots than before although I still have the feeling that it could be even better (occasional hunting in low light, accuracy is not always perfect).
Personally, I have decided to leave the APS-C side of the E-mount again. It just didn’t feel as well rounded and reliable as I had hoped to and mostly important I just don’t get used to the A6XXX design after owning several A7 series cameras. I will wait for the A7III and try some different cameras (especially curious about the Fuji X-T2 because of the user interface) until it’s available.
I am a passionate photographer from northern Germany and I love landscape, architecture, travel, portrait and family photography. I use manual lenses but I also enjoy the comfort of autofocus lenses, therefore both can be found in my bag.
thoughts on “Sony A6500 vs. Sony A7II comparison – which one is the smarter choice?”
Thank you very much for this detailed and fair comparison! The many details you mention enable every reader to make his/her own decision, according to his/her needs and preferences, and this is what makes such a comparison really valuable – far more valuable than simple “Buy this! Buy that!” reviews which are found way too often in the WWW.
One last subjective aspect is that I can achieve pleasant colors with my Sony A7II more easily. It could also be possible that I am just more used to that camera. I’m interested in this… It’s a subjective aspect because it’s a matter of taste, but it could also depend on the post-processing. For instance, with Lightroom, I’ve never got “pleasant” colours out of my Sony cameras in a consistent way: in particular for the blue in some blue skies and in some hues of brown that in reality are more yellowish, but turned out more reddish. I work with RAW and, sure, I can control everything: but it took really too much time in working with selective colour channel controls – and without a 100% warranty of success. The problem has been fixed when I bought a Passport Colour Checker and created my own generic profiles – so I’m sure I start with a truly neutral rendition (furthermore the same for all my cameras) and it’s easier to get the wanted results. In my previous life I had several Nikon bodies – it happened the same thing only with one of them. That’s why I think it might be more a Lightroom than a Sony problem, at least in my case. Is yours similar? PS For the record, also the a6300 has got autofocusing during FOCUS magnification (and yes, it’s really useful, not only for macro shots, but also for better precision in some cases when the camera seems to be less precise than usual).
Thank you for sharing your experience! I know what you mean, I am not really happy about the consistency of my results. I really have to point out that this is an subjective impression, the A7 images seem to have more gentle colors and seem to be more vivid in general. But really, take this with a grain of salt. It can also be my profiling or my processing that just matches the A7II files better. I have also a ColorChecker Passport flying around and will do that profiling asap, thank you!
Note that the CC Passport, of course, doesn’t solve all problems – and sometimes might create its own It’s technology, after all. It might be also my fault – an error in shooting calibration photos?, but my profiles have a common pitfall: when you shoot the falling (or rising) sun, the transitions around the solar circle towards the yellow/reddish atmosphere around aren’t smooth. At all. While Lightroom profiles are ok in this case.
Thanks for the warning, I’ll give it a closer look. My biggest gripe are skin colors. I’d gain a lot if the calibration improves that.
I’ll be interested to see if you like the Xrite skin tones. I prefer ACR for Caucasian skin. Indeed that is I think what they optimized it for, whereas Xrite is slightly more colorimetrically accurate, for better or worse. But of course you can’t profile you individual camera, lenses, or odd lighting, with ACR. I have considered trying to make some presets which take an Xrite profile and modify it to be what some other profile would have been like had it been possible to generate it based on this camera/lens, if that makes sense….
ACR/LR transition to white on extreme highlights before clipping. Gives a more pleasing look and avoids banding, but isn’t realistic.
Yup, profiling is the key. It’s amazing how lazy/inconsistent Adobe is from camera to camera with their Standard profile. Doesn’t say much for their ability to try to mimic the manufacturer’s profiles. When you escape the built-in profiles, you can achieve pleasing colors on any camera from the start. Rarely will the sensor be the cause of poor colors between cameras.
Thanks for the honest, precise, practical and insightful review. I have both feet camped in the Sony APS-C world since 2014 and recently purchased an A6500, pretty much for the reasons you highlighted. I’m still learning how to maximize its usage and minimize its quirks. One small and very versatile lens that I absolutely adore on this body type is the Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 OSS. Excellent all-rounder with nice optics too. I don’t have experience on the Sony FF yet but was considering the A7R2 for awhile. The A7II just felt a bit old and limited spec-wise. When the A9 came out, I figured I would wait out for the next incarnation of the A7 (or cheaper A9) and selected the A6500 in the meantime as a step-up from the A6000 (which is still a surprisingly good camera). My thoughts are the A6500 is an excellent fit for events (fast AF, discrete, longer reach per given focal because of crop factor) and a future FF camera could be useful for creative projects or ultimate IQ (ISO, best separation, etc). Will see what 2018 has to offer… I have over two dozen vintage lenses I like to experiment with but it’s difficult to explore the wide focal end with APS-C, except with a focal reducer/mount adapter (with a slight optical impact). However, using the center part of old lenses helps to get reasonable sharpness even on a denser sensor. It’s really unfortunate Sony has put aside upgrading its APS-C lenses but I can see them wanting to increase margins with higher end products. Using FE lens is ok (I like the 55mm/1.8 qualities) but you often pay a size penalty and always waste the extra image circle light. Money for nothing. Thanks again for the excellent article.
Your comment reflects my thoughts, thank you. Mind-wise, we are in the same boat although I’ve had my feet in the FE system since it’s introduction and skipped the APS-C part mostly in the past.
Jannik, perhaps you missed it but you can dedicate the top wheel to exposure compensation. I discovered this in Gary Friedman’s book and have used it ever since. It does help immensely while photographing in difficult light and really speeds up the process. I can’t describe it here as I don’t have access to the book right now but, but it involves custom key mapping and setting certain functions. Great review all around. Perhaps this tip will change your opinion of the a6500 for the better. Taperwood
Hi Doug, it’s true. Both wheels (toprear) can be used as an exposure compensation dial and I chose the rear one. Nevertheless, it’s still quite different to a dedicated exposure compensation dial, where you have hard stops at the end of the scale and (even more important) can see which value is the current one, even if the wheel is untouched and the camera turned off.
I would really like to see a side by side test of a full frame with a legacy lens vs an APSC camera with the same lens and a good quality speedbooster. I think it might actually make sense, for someone who tends to stick to a single legacy system, to stay APSC. Would be keen to see that tested!
After a usage period of the A7 for 1-5years I returned back using MFT and APSC Sony, simply because of the size and I wouldn’t take better shots with a fullframe (I am still the same person behind the Camera, no matter whether it’s a full frame or crop (-; ) For APSC Sony, even with the old line up of lenses you have quite some choice (a good wide angle zoom, some primes and on top of that some good manual lenses from Samyang and the Touits from Zeiss),and not with that hefty price tag of the full frame lenses. I really like the 16-70, but it suffers from bad quality control (my sample as well). What I am missing, but is system inherent: Adaption of old lenses with a crop of 1.0. To some degree it can be helped with a focal reducer.
The original A7 is so cheap nowadays that it’s clever to have one just for the manual lenses. I mean it’s almost as cheap as an Speedboster
A very good review. I upgraded from an NEX-6 to an A7, and then added an A7II to tap my many Leica M mount and adaptable-to-M Canon FD and Nikon AiS lenses. I bought a used A6000 to tap some leftover APS-C lenses from my NEX-6 period, and was delighted with its performance. Those of us who’ve been shooting since the 4×5 Speed Graphic and Rolleiflex era tend to be much more forgiving of shortcomings like FOCUS speed, fps and write buffers. But I admit to being charmed by my TechArt Pro autofocus adapter, and plan to add an A6500 to my travel pack in the coming months, so I can use the TechArt, too. The only issue I’d take with your review is that, while Sony has not been introducing new APS-C lenses, others have. My Rokinon 12mm f2 is fully as competent on my A6000 as my Voigtlander 15mm Super Heliar III on my A7 bodies; my Sigma 19mm f2.8 Art is stunningly similar to my Zony FE 35mm f2.8 on my A7 series. I’m sure the Nikkor 80-200mm f2.8 AF ED I’ve adapted to the TechArt – and performing magnificently there – will perform equally well on an A6500. Perhaps, like Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” I am “too easily made glad.” But I decide based on my images and my wallet – and the A7/A6000 family pleases me a lot.
Very good article. But I would still say that A7ii has a better dynamic range if the scenario is demanding (but of course we have better choice there) ref: the comparison tool in https://www.dpreview.com/articles/3416153698/Canon-eos-6d-mark-ii-dynamic-range
Jannik, thanks for the review. Excellent and informative as always. As food for thought on using legacy lenses on APS-C. An alternative viable option is using manual lenses with a speed booster. I’ve used a Metabones Speed Booster Ultra with my Contax lenses (28/2.8, 35/2.8, 50/1.4 1.7, 85/2.8 and 100/3.5) a lot on a NEX6 body with very good results. The added 1 stop of light also adds to the versability. Even the 100 with a 2x Mutar extender (a very small 200/5.0 or thereabout) is producing acceptable results. The added center and mid frame sharpness also helps with the lower pixel pitch on a APC body. Corner sharpness suffers a bit on larger apertures (1.4 and 2.0) but is still excellent in the center so the 50/1.4 (75/1.4 eq,) becoming a true 50/1.0 is not to be laughed at in low light. As a complement to my full frame it’s hard to beat, and to be able to use the same lenses with the same perspective and framing is also welcome. So a 6500 is now on my wish list as I think the IBIS would make this set-up even better.
I use both, the A6000 and the A7, and made similar experience. I also want to replace both camera by a single camera in future. As the A9 is too extensive for me, I am curious about a future A7iii.
I had the Fuji X-T2 and I absolutely LOVED it, it is so much fun to use, the lenses are indeed incredible. However I went to the A7II because of X-Trans. Fuji really have shot themselves in the foot with it and it just really got under my skin after years of trying to work around it. I really did want to stay with it. I almost got the A6500 but the ergonomics just isn’t there for me. I’m hoping the A7III is more responsive. One thing that baffles me is that Sony don’t have an in-camera RAW converter. That was so convenient with Fuji and I rather not shoot RAWJPEG just incase.
There is a scenario that should be considered: you already have a A7xx, are used to and love full frame but want an A6xxx for the reason you mentionned (fast moving, reach of aps-c etc…) = What would you recommend? I went the a6000 as it’s only used occasionnally and it’s af and other specs are already quite decent but most of all it’s dirt cheap. A6500 is way too expensive in that scenario for the little improvements in answering the needs. I would also add the scenario where you already have an apsc and thinking of moving to fullframe: its better to go A7/A7II/A7RII Thanks for a great article
Wonderfully written article. I have owned an a6000 for a little more than a year. I came from Canon (300D…50D…7D). I want to go full frame, but just can’t afford it, with the exception of the a7ii. From your article, I now know that this IS what I want to do! Now, ::sigh:: to be patient and wait for the a7iii. I want to see if Sony addresses some of those concerns mentioned in your article. A question that I would love your opinion on centers around one of my current lens. I really like my 18-105pz. I know that I could keep it for a new ff, but crop factor means the 24 MP resolution drops to around 10 MP. If I never print above 8×10 or view on a monitor above 28″, will I be happy with this lower resolution? I do have ff primes already, 28 50, so maybe add the 28-70 kit to a new ff and sell the 18-105 with the a6000 isn’t a bad thing. I would love to keep it all. Photography is an expensive addiction! Thank you for any insight that you can provide!
Thank you, Charlie! If I were you and if you plan to own just one FF camera, I’d sell the 18-105. The kit lens performs probably on a little weaker level than the 18-105 on the A6000 (just my guess) but still much better compared to the cropped 18-105 on the FF sensor. The search for good FE standard zooms is very frustrating, I’d either go the cheapo way (28-70) or the quality way (24-70 GM).
Thanks for the quick response! Lots to consider, but I like my choices. It’s not unreasonable to expect the 28-70 in a package deal when the a7iii is released. It should be worth an extra 100 or so, for sure! Keep writing, I really enjoy your perspective.
Hi all, I’m wondering about the 2 cameras, I’m coming from a Canon reflex and I like both portrait and music concert photography, so in this case movements subjects and low lights. I like the idea of easy to carry camera of the a6500, plus the build in flash and the fact that it newer machine. Said that the a7ii it is a7. What do you suggest? Thank You, Giulio
This is a really exceptional review! Thank you for your thoughts and effort. I am preparing to buy a new Sony mirrorless camera and have extensively studied the a7ii and a6500; I go back and forth all the time, so I’m not quite ready to “push the shutter” on this purchase. Interestingly, one of the more peripheral details in this review caught my eye: The a6500 display is 16×9, which I had not known before reading your review. Honestly, I don’t want a 16×9 display. While that will not be the main factor steering me away from the a6500, it’s in the equation. I like your description of the a6500 as a more modern and responsive camera, but the a7ii’s full frame, better low-light images and better options for creative photography, all have me leaning toward the bigger camera. Which raises another question: Is the a7ii a big enough improvement over the a7 to justify the extra 600? I know the a7 is kind of old now, but I’m intrigued, especially at a 1,000 price point. I don’t really feel a great need for the in-body stabilization as I typically use a tripod. So in that context, do you think the a7 makes sense for a guy like me who currently owns the basic a5000 (and really likes it, truth be told).
Sono un fotagrafo principiante e ho bisogno di una macchina stabilizzata tuttofare. Intendo usare obiettivi a focale fissa (prevalentemente il Sony zeiss 35 1.4). Ho letto attentamente il confronto fra le due macchine ed apprezzo molto il contributo alla conoscenza di un mondo per me ancora da scoprire. Però non sono riuscito a comprendere quale macchina preferire. Ho bisogno di un consiglio esperto. Grazie
hello ! great article. It helps me probably for an A 7 iii. I need a silent shutter. I’ve an A6300 and looking for an A7 because some low light pictures to take…theater and modern dance. Even with the Sony 50 mm f1.8 and 24 mmf1.8 but iso 6400 is not so good. ( raw in LR) and the16-70 f4 is unusable. Thank you
Thanks Just bought an A7 II and i will return it. I m not the only one feeling that this camera have a real AF issue. It is great for landscape but when a subject begin moving it is just lottery AF. For this price point i expect something great at landscape AND useful at moving portrait. Bottom line A7 II is a great camera and can make wonderfull pictures but it feels like an uncontrolled lottery to get a usable middle or close range moving subject shoot. will wait for an improved a7 III but i am sold on the mirorless full frame.
I felt the same. I use only manual glass on my A7II now and a Nikon D750 for everything that moves. I couldn’t wait for a refined A7iii, my boy is growing up now and not later.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I have the a6000 and am invested in crop lenses and debating upgrading to the a7II or a6500. I’m not considering the R series, since I find 24MP ample enough for my uses but the 12MP of the S series is a slightly low. One area I am most looking for performance improvement is in low light situations without flash. I understand the a7II is less noisy at higher ISOs but the low light FOCUS is not as good as the a6500, so I guess I’m still on the fence or waiting.
With the A7iii coming, this may be worth a review… as it looks to have many of 6500 speed,… and loves low light Sure you will look at it in due time. Ref FF APS C, given impact on angle of view, Tele lenses for APS C are much more compact than for FF. Considering manual legacy lenses, it makes a huge difference carrying a 135 mm and a 200 mm rather than a 200 mm and a 300 mm… Obviously, difference much less for wide angle and standard lenses.
For similar reasons as in the review (kids), I added a A6300 to my a7ii and my prime lenses (FE 20/2,28/2,55/1.8,90/2.8). So when I go to the museum/zoo/playground with the kids, I take the a6300 with the 28mm and 55mm with me, and for landscapes/stills I take the a7ii and whatever focal length(s) I need. Now, with the A7III, I could go back to having one body only, but would loose the compactness of the A6300 (especially with the FE28mm it is very portable and capable for almost anything) the crop factor doubling of the number of different focal lengths my set of primes offers. decisions, decisions …
Hi Jannik, guess you own an a7III now so you may compare that to a6500 in future, or add to this article.
The Sony Alpha α7 Mark II Camera Review
This second generation Full Frame mirrorless camera is an evolutionary step-up from the original Sony α7. Sony rights many of the α7’s wrongs here, while building on the same core features that made it so successful in the first place, creating another winner in the process.
First generation products are usually born from ambition, fueled by a clear goal: to disrupt the status quo. These products make it a point to show just how wrong some things in any given industry are, and present a different way forward for those who do not wish to conform.
The Sony Alpha α7 Mark II Full Frame mirrorless camera.
Much like the original Mac did to desktop computing and the iPhone did to the phone industry, mirrorless cameras have been disrupting the photography industry for a few years now. What started as a harmless enough proposition for less-than-serious photographers is becoming increasingly uncomfortable to watch for traditional DSLR manufacturers.
The original Sony Alpha α7, introduced in late 2013, was the first Full Frame mirrorless camera to seriously challenge professional-grade DSLRs in terms of image quality and features. Other than Leica M cameras, there was no other Full Frame mirrorless camera in the market back then, a fact that largely gave DSLR giants Canon and Nikon permission to dismiss their mirrorless competition as little more than amateur hour.
With the release of the α7, together with the high-resolution α7R, things were not looking so harmless anymore. These were professional-oriented cameras that offered similar image quality and a whole host of new features that were either rare or completely absent from DSLRs, like built-in Wi-Fi, NFC, FOCUS peaking, magnification, electronic viewfinders that could compensate for ambient lighting conditions, and many others, all in remarkably light and compact bodies that were much easier to carry.
All of a sudden, amateur hour was effectively over.
The Sony Alpha α7 Mark II rights many of the wrongs of the original α7.
The first generation α7 was an ambitious product that got many things right, and its commercial success points to a greater truth: the number of people who need a traditional DSLR to get the job done is shrinking by the day. Mirrorless technology is here to stay.
However, like most 1.0 products, the original α7-series cameras were ambitious but not terribly polished, and had quite a few issues that affected the overall user experience in a negative way. The lack of in-body image stabilization (IBIS), the relatively poor autofocus performance, and certain shutter shock problems with the α7R, to name just a few, clearly showed there was ample room for improvement here. If Sony was really aiming at Canon and Nikon, they sure had their work cut out for them.
Flash forward to 2015, a mere two years later, and Sony has released not one, but four new Full Frame cameras in the α7 series. By comparison, both of Canon’s current mainstream professional camera bodies were released in 2012, a full year before the original α7 even existed. Clearly, Sony’s been busy.
Sony has released a total of six Full Frame cameras in the α7 series in just two years.
The Sony Alpha α7 Mark II camera — α7 II henceforth — is the first of Sony’s second-generation α7 camera bodies. It was announced in November 2014, just a year after the original α7, and like most 2.0 products, it is an evolutionary step up that aims to right the α7’s wrongs and for the most part, manages to do so brilliantly.
The α7 II’s headlining features are an improved, beefier body with a more substantial grip, the world’s first 5-axis IBIS in a Full Frame camera, faster autofocus performance and, since the 2.0 firmware update released in November 2015, the possibility to select 14-bit uncompressed RAW files and to use phase-detection autofocus with adapted lenses.
These features are a substantial improvement over the original α7, and make the α7 II an even stronger competitor against traditional DSLRs from Canon and Nikon, not to mention the rest of the mirrorless industry.
Let’s take a closer look at everything it has to offer.
The α7 II has an improved body and a bigger grip.
The Sony α7 II’s build quality is greatly improved over its predecessor. It has a magnesium alloy body that feels very solid in the hand while remaining light, and the bigger grip makes it much more comfortable to handle than the original α7.
The α7 II has an improved body and a bigger grip.
The body has a matte finish that looks definitely high-end, and gives the camera an understated look. This is a camera that doesn’t immediately scream “professional photographer”, meaning it’s a lot easier to be inconspicuous with it when the need arises, something street photographers are bound to appreciate.
The camera is also weather sealed, and is rated as “moisture and dust resistant” by Sony. While it may not have the bulletproof ruggedness of traditional DSLRs, it’s more than enough to cope with the occasional drizzle. You shouldn’t worry about using it every day, but it clearly wasn’t designed to be a war-zone camera, so be sure to keep that in mind.
The α7 II is rated “dust and moisture resistant” by Sony.
The lens mount is another area that has been considerably improved in this second-generation body. First-generation α7 cameras had a different, weaker mount and on rare occasions, it could lead to light leakage and even accidental lens releases. That was a huge and potentially very expensive issue, and it’s good to see that Sony finally got the mount right this time around.
With the new, sturdier mount, there appear to be no such problems in the α7 II, and there’s hardly any play between a mounted lens and the camera body. Simply put, there’s no reason to be concerned about the lens mount anymore.
The lens mount has been improved and is now sturdier than before.
Overall, the α7 II’s build quality is top notch, although there are still some areas that could use an improvement. Perhaps the most obvious one is the memory card door, which is made of plastic and wiggles quite a bit, even when properly closed.
The plastic memory card door is one of the weaker spots, and feels cheaply made.
Another area that could use some rethinking is the eyecup. It’s not that it’s bad, or uncomfortable, but it’s an absolute magnet for dust particles. Seriously, it’s incredibly hard to keep that rubber-like material clean.
The eyecup is made of rubber, and is a magnet for dust.
Other than these minor issues, though, the α7 II’s build quality remains top notch.
The α7 II has a 3-inch tilting LCD with over 1.2 million pixels. It provides enough resolution to accurately compose or review images, but it’s nothing to write home about, especially when compared with today’s high-resolution smartphone displays.
The α7 II’s LCD has over 1.2 million pixels.
Brightness is also adequate for indoor use, although out in full sunlight it’s quite difficult to see anything clearly. For those situations, it’s always better to use the electronic viewfinder instead.
The screen tilts in order to make it easier to compose waist-level or overhead shots which, shockingly, is something most professional DSLRs today still don’t offer. It doesn’t swivel for selfies or video, though.
The tilting LCD makes it easy to compose waist-level and overhead shots.
Perhaps the biggest omission in the LCD is the fact that it’s not a touchscreen. Mirrorless cameras from Olympus and Panasonic do have touchscreens, and they make a huge difference in actual use. Things like instantly selecting your FOCUS point by touching the screen, or swiping to navigate your pictures in Playback mode, are made much better by the use of touch technology, and it’s a shame Sony still hasn’t decided to get onboard with that.
Since it’s not a touchscreen, the LCD has no oleophobic coating and picks up fingerprints very easily.
Not being a touchscreen, the α7 II’s LCD doesn’t have any sort of oleophobic coating to minimize fingerprints. As a result, the screen can get very dirty, very quickly. If you can’t stand dirty screens, you should probably remember to carry a microfiber cloth to wipe it clean every now and then.
Finally, another issue with the LCD is its high reflectivity. The screen reflects a whole lot of light, and this can be distracting sometimes.
The display is super reflective, which can be distracting sometimes.
The α7 II has a 0.5-inch electronic viewfinder with over 2.3 million pixels that makes it a breeze to compose your images. It’s crystal clear and super bright, and it offers 100% coverage.
With a magnification of 0.71x, looking through the viewfinder is always a pleasant experience, no matter the lighting conditions. The refresh rate is also excellent, with everything moving smoothly and without any sort of artifacts.
The electronic viewfinder is large, bright, and offers 100% coverage.
The built-in diopter-adjustment dial allows you to optimize the viewfinder to your particular eyesight prescription. You can adjust it from –4.0 m–1 to 3.0 m–1. This dial is located on the base of the EVF itself.
The EVF has a built-in diopter-adjustment dial.
All in all, this is a great EVF. Simply put, there’s nothing to complain about here.
The camera features two sections on the left side where the media connectors are located. Both of these sections are protected by plastic covers that peel away to reveal the connectors.
There are two sections on the left side of the camera that house the media connectors.
The smaller section to the right has a micro-USB connector which is used to tether the camera to a computer and to charge the battery via the supplied USB charger. It also has an HDMI port that allows you to connect the camera to an external display.
The camera has a micro-USB connector that allows tethering to a computer, and also charges the battery. It also has an HDMI port.
The bigger section to the left houses standard headphone and microphone plugs, making it easy to connect your peripherals for video recording.
The camera also has standard headphone and microphone plugs for video recording and playback.
These connectors are all well placed and easy to access, although the flimsy plastic covers are awkward sometimes, as they are left hanging whenever the connectors are in use.
The α7 II uses one standard SD card to store data, and it’s located on the right side, near the base. Obviously, given the high data rate this camera is capable of, we recommend going with a fast Class-10 SD card to minimize waiting times.
Due to its high write transfer speed, our favorite SD card is the 64 GB Sandisk Extreme Pro, but the Samsung 64GB Pro and the Lexar Professional 64GB are good too.
Unfortunately, the α7 II only has one card slot, so there’s no redundant storage. If you need to have an in-body backup of your pictures, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Ergonomics and Controls
The Sony α7 II has very good ergonomics thanks to its improved grip and sturdier body, although it’s best suited for people with small-ish hands. This slightly heavier body is better balanced with bigger lenses than the original α7, and it’s also more comfortable to hold in the hand while remaining small and light enough to be significantly more portable than comparable DSLRs.
The improved grip has a faux-leather texture, makes the camera easier to hold, and is better balanced with bigger lenses.
The grip is covered by a textured rubber-like material — you could even say it’s faux-leather — that’s great to touch and provides a nice, reassuring feel. However, if you have big hands the entire camera body may be a bit cramped for you. The main problem is that the body is not tall enough to accommodate the entire palm of your hand, which means your pinkie will be left hanging in the air, with nowhere to rest on. Had Sony made the camera slightly taller while maintaining its width and depth, the result would have probably been a bit more comfortable.
The camera still isn’t tall enough to accommodate big hands, but there are some add-on grips you can use to make it more comfortable.
Luckily, there are a number of 3rd-party add-on grips you can install in order to fine-tune the camera to your preferred size. And if you need even more of a grip, Sony’s own vertical battery grip is also a fantastic, albeit pricey, choice.
As for controls, the α7 II features plenty of dedicated dials and buttons for every feature, although, as we’re about to see, it’s not without its quirks.
The mode dial is located on the top plate, to the right of the electronic viewfinder. It allows you to choose between the usual shooting modes, including aperture and shutter priority, as well as full auto and full manual modes. It also allows you to save up to two camera settings, or select the Scene, Panorama and Movie modes. In this regard, the α7 II provides all the necessary modes for the vast majority of shooters, regardless of their level of expertise.
The main mode dial is located on the top plate, to the right of the viewfinder.
Moving over to the exposure controls, the α7 II has two main dials. When shooting in aperture or shutter priority modes, both dials control your primary parameter, while the exposure compensation dial allows you to change the secondary one. In manual mode, the front dial controls the aperture and the back dial controls the shutter speed. Both dials are, of course, entirely customizable, so you can set them up to your preferred behavior.
The exposure compensation dial allows you adjust exposure in 1/3rd of a stop increments.
The dedicated exposure compensation dial allows you to dial in /- 3 full stops of compensation in 1/3rd of a stop increments. This comes in really handy when you’re dealing with complex scenes, where the camera’s light meter may have a hard time getting the exposure right.
The shutter release button has been moved to the top of the front dial, and is now more exposed than in the original α7, making it easier and more comfortable to press. This shutter button is different from the majority of cameras out there, though, because it’s a soft shutter. That means there’s not a hard stop mid-way to indicate the threshold between the focusing action and the actual shutter release. Instead, it’s a continuous press all the way.
The α7 II has a soft shutter, and the on-off switch is placed around it.
This takes some getting used to, but in practice it’s actually an improvement, because it greatly reduces camera shake when releasing the shutter, which allows you to use slightly slower shutter speeds without getting blurry shots. Once you get used to this type of shutter button, it’s hard to go back.
The on-off switch is located around the shutter release button. This placement is ideal for quickly turning the camera on and off without even looking, and lets you simply raise the camera to your eye and shoot whenever the opportunity presents itself.
The top plate also features two customizable buttons next to the shutter release. By default, the C1 button allows you to select your white balance, while the C2 button allows you to change your FOCUS region between Wide/Zone/Center/Flexible Spot/Lock-on AF. Both of these buttons trigger FOCUS magnification when shooting in MF mode.
The C1 and C2 customizable buttons can be set to whatever features you want.
The C3 button is located on the upper back side of the camera, to the right of the viewfinder, and allows you to select your FOCUS mode between Single-shot AF/Continuous AF/DMF/Manual Focus. When you’re in Playback mode, this button allows you to zoom-in on your pictures.
Additionally, there’s a C4 button on the bottom right side of the camera that is not configured by default, and acts as the Delete button when you’re in Playback mode.
The C3 and C4 customizable buttons are on the back side of the camera.
All four customizable buttons can be configured to control nearly every function in the α7 II, with just a few exceptions. You can’t, for example, assign one of these to manually switch between the LCD display and the electronic viewfinder.
This is a problem, because the automatic switch is controlled by a sensor that is extremely sensitive, meaning the LCD often switches off when you’re trying to compose a waist-level shot and you place the camera a bit close to your own body. Sony really should address this in a future firmware update by either lowering the sensitivity of the sensor, or allowing users to manually switch between the LCD and the EVF.
On the back plate itself, there are several buttons and controls that act as shortcuts to frequently used features.
The back plate has several buttons and dials that control all functions of the camera and also serve as shortcuts to frequently accessed features.
On the upper region there’s a switch-and-hold button that can be used to activate two different functions. By default, this switch toggles between manual FOCUS and exposure lock, with each feature being activated by pressing and holding the button on top of the switch. This works great to fine-tune FOCUS when the AF system misses, for example.
Below that button there’s a Function (Fn) button that gives you access to the Quick Navi screen. This screen allows you to quickly change settings without needing to dive into the complex menu system. While in Playback mode, pressing this button switches over to the “Send to Smartphone” screen, which is incredibly useful and saves a ton of time when you want to transfer images to your phone.
The Fn button accesses the Quick Navi screen, where essential parameters can be configured without entering the complex menu system.
The control wheel is placed below the Fn button, and allows you to navigate the menu system and select your FOCUS region as well as your FOCUS point. You can turn this wheel, but you can also click up/down/left/right on it as well as the center, just like on Apple’s classic iPod clickwheel, for example. The four arrow buttons also serve as direct accesses to several features: the Up arrow cycles along the different display modes, the Right arrow sets the ISO, and the Left arrow sets the burst mode.
Unlike the clickwheel, however, the one in the α7 II is extremely sensitive, and it’s quite difficult to avoid accidental presses when simply trying to turn it, especially when you’re busy looking through the EVF. Unfortunately, this makes selecting the appropriate FOCUS settings quite cumbersome. This wheel could really use some attention from Sony, because it’s by far the most annoying point of friction when operating the camera.
Below the control wheel, there’s the Playback and Delete buttons, both of which do exactly what it looks like they do. As mentioned before, the Delete button doubles as a fourth customizable button, although it’s not configured by default.
The movie recording button is on the right side, and is very uncomfortable to press. As of the 2.0 firmware update, it is now possible to map this function to any other button.
The infamous Movie recording button is located below the exposure compensation dial, and to the right side of the camera, immediately above the memory card door. Many people find this placement frustrating, and Sony finally decided to give users the option to map this function to another button with the recently released 2.0 firmware update. Better late than never.
Finally, to the left of the EVF, there’s the Menu button which, as the name implies, gives you access to the menu system of the α7 II.
The α7 II’s bottom plate is very clean, featuring a standard tripod mount in the center, and the spring-loaded battery door immediately below the grip.
The bottom plate is very clean, and only has the tripod mount and the battery door.
The battery compartment can be accessed even when the camera is mounted on most tripods, meaning you can swap batteries without needing to alter your setup.
The battery door can be accessed even when the camera is mounted on a tripod, making it easy to swap batteries without altering your setup.
The Sony α7-series cameras are often criticized for their overly complex menu system. Indeed, this system is nowhere near as intuitive as in other manufacturer’s cameras, but it’s still reasonable enough to not be a deal breaker for most people.
The menu system is complex, but still reasonably well arranged.
When you think about it, menu systems are supposed to give you access to every setting there is, and the Sony menu system does that in spades. You can customize pretty much anything you can think of with these cameras, which is in part why some purists don’t like them very much.
One of the most frequent tropes directed at Sony is that they make computers that take pictures, as opposed to making cameras. It’s hard to argue against that after taking a look at the menu system, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Having so many options right at your fingertips ensures you have plenty of room to grow with your camera. As you become more skillful at certain technical aspects of photography, you’ll be able to play with these advanced settings and fine-tune your camera to behave in the bet possible way for the type of photography that you do.
The key to efficiently navigating this camera’s features is using the Quick Navi screen as much as possible.
If you find yourself a bit overwhelmed by the initial complexity of the system, make it a point to use the Quick Navi screen as much as possible. This will give you access to the most used settings in a straightforward enough manner, and you can leave the rest of the menu system as-is until you feel comfortable diving into it. The default configuration is good enough that you probably won’t need to change much about the camera anyway, so don’t worry too much about it.
That being said, if you’re a purist at heart and want a simple camera with only the essential controls, you may want to look elsewhere.
The PlayMemories store and the PlayMemories Mobile app
Another unique aspect of Sony’s E-mount cameras is their PlayMemories app store. This allows users to download apps to their camera that provide additional features, like time-lapse, light-painting, advanced bracketing, and so on. Some of these apps, like the Smart Remote Control, are free, but most cost between 4.99 and 9.99.
On one hand, it’s good that Sony is offering some aftermarket ways to enhance the feature set of their cameras. On the other hand, though, some of these apps are features that should have been included in the camera to begin with, so it’s hard to stomach paying 9.99 for something like time-lapse, which many other, much cheaper cameras can do at no extra cost.
The α7 II has both Wi-Fi and NFC, which enable it to easily connect to a smartphone, or even to a Wi-Fi hotspot, in order to access the PlayMemories store to download features and apps.
The PlayMemories Mobile app, available for Android and iOS, allows you to control some of the camera’s features.
Besides the PlayMemories store, there’s also the confusingly named PlayMemories Mobile app, available for Android and iOS. This app gives you access to some of the PlayMemories features, like the Smart Remote Control. It also allows you to transfer pictures from the camera to your smartphone.
You can initiate the connection by pressing the “Send to Smartphone” button while in Playback mode.
In iOS, the pairing occurs at the OS level, but first you need to initiate the connection from the camera. You can do so by selecting the “Smart Remote Control” or the “Send to Smartphone” options from the menu system, both of which will trigger the connection process. The α7 II creates a Wi-Fi network that you connect your iPhone to, and once the connection is established, it’s only a matter of launching the app.
You can also initiate pairing by activating the “Smart Remote Control” feature on the camera.
In Android, the connection process is much more streamlined: you simply place the phone next to the camera in a way that the NFC markings on both devices are facing each other, and let the NFC protocol do its thing.
Upon launching the app, the requested action is performed automatically.
Once inside the app, you can get straight to work. Since you initiated the feature request from the camera, the app automatically does what you asked for upon launch. If you selected the Smart Remote Control feature, you get the remote function immediately after launching the app. If, on the other hand, you requested an image transfer, you’ll get a copy dialog and a confirmation message once the file has been transferred.
Upon launching the app, the requested action is performed automatically.
The 4.0 version of the Smart Remote Control app allows you to, um, control nearly every aspect of your exposures, including aperture, shutter speed, ISO, FOCUS mode, FOCUS point, etc. Some of these parameters have direct on-screen shortcuts, while the rest can be configured in the settings screen of the app.
The settings screen in the 4.0 version of the app allows you to control nearly every aspect of your exposures.
Another great feature of the app is that you can simply touch anywhere on the screen to select your FOCUS point, something that, ironically, you can’t do on the α7 II itself.
The α7 II’s shutter speed can be controlled within the app.
Like shutter speed, the lens’ aperture can be quickly changed within the app on your iPhone.
Completing the trifecta, ISO can also be controlled within the PlayMemories app.
The remote control app is usable and reliable, and will allow you to do what it says on the tin. The connection process is a bit cumbersome initially, but once you’ve set it up it’s easy and quick enough to not be tedious.
Another great aspect of the remote is that you can use your smartphone as remote storage. That way you can keep shooting even if you don’t have an SD card in the camera, or if the SD card is full. The way it works is by automatically transferring images to your phone right after they’re taken, which has the added benefit of streamlining the process nicely.
At the end of the day, the PlayMemories Mobile app is by no means a great app, but it’s good enough.
Sensor and Image Quality
One thing that wasn’t upgraded from the original Sony α7 is the imaging sensor. The α7 II features the same 24.2-Megapixel CMOS Sony-made sensor as the α7. It also features the same BIONZ X image processor. In practice, this means the α7 II offers virtually identical image quality as the original α7 — which is to say, pretty darn good.
The α7 II has the same 24.2-Megapixel sensor as the original α7.
This may be a disappointment for some, but keep in mind that when the α7 II was announced, the original α7 was barely one year old. For reference, Canon hasn’t updated the 5D or 6D cameras since they were introduced in 2012.
However, even though we’re nearing the end of 2015, and while other cameras offer higher-resolution sensors, 24 Megapixels is still a perfectly adequate spec for all but the most demanding professional jobs. Unless you’re planning to print your images at billboard sizes and up, you’ll be absolutely fine with the α7 II’s resolution. Higher-resolution cameras are niche products aimed at professionals with very specific needs: if you actually need all those extra pixels, chances are you already know.
The α7 II has the same 24.2-Megapixel sensor as the original α7.
As for image quality, the Sony α7 II offers Full Frame image quality with no asterisks, meaning there’s plenty of dynamic range and very good high-ISO performance to be had.
Although it may not be the best camera in its class for high-ISO performance, the α7 II still puts out very decent results. Left: ISO 6,400. Right: ISO 12,800.
For comparison’s sake, the α7 II’s image quality is roughly in line with that of the similarly priced Nikon D750 or Canon EOS 6D. It may lag slightly behind those in some aspects and inch ahead in others, but overall there’s not much to separate them.
This performance cements the α7 II’s status as a solid Full Frame camera for professionals and enthusiasts alike.
One of the aspects that has seen great improvement in the α7 II is the autofocus system, which Sony claims is up to 40% faster than the original α7. In practice, what this means is that AF is generally snappy in good light with nearly all native FE lenses. Accuracy is also excellent in good light, making it a very reliable camera in everyday, real-world use.
The α7 II has 40% faster AF than the original α7.
Tracking is also acceptable, although the α7 II won’t set any records in this department. This is definitely not an action camera, but it’s more than capable of handling most everyday scenes just fine.
In dimmer lighting conditions, though, AF may be slightly slower, with the camera hunting a fair bit for FOCUS. Tracking accuracy also decreases significantly in poor lighting conditions. This performance is similar to other mirrorless cameras in the market, and it’s due to the inherent limitations of the contrast-detection autofocus algorithms these cameras use.
Tracking AF performance is excellent in good light, but struggles in dim conditions.
The α7 II has a nice trick up its sleeve, though, in the form of 117 on-sensor phase-detection autofocus (PDAF) points. These points were used by the α7 II to assist the contrast-detection AF system when needed, like when tracking subjects, for example. As of the 2.0 firmware update released by Sony on November 17, 2015, these points now allow the α7 II to also use PDAF with adapted lenses, which gives a huge boost to the camera’s value and versatility.
Since the 2.0 firmware update, the camera can use its 117 on-sensor phase-detection autofocus points with adapted lenses.
PDAF usually performs significantly better than the regular contrast-detection autofocus most mirrorless cameras use, and allows the α7 II to use Sony A-mount lenses as well as 3rd-party DSLR lenses with near native performance. If you’re a DSLR user and have a big collection of Canon L lenses, for example, you can now bring them right over with you to the α7 II and chances are, they’ll perform almost as good as they did on a native Canon body.
One downside to using PDAF on the α7 II is that the phase-detection points are all located on the central area of the sensor. This isn’t too different from traditional DSLRs, though, so most DSLR users should feel right at home.
Besides the usual single-scene autofocus and continuous autofocus modes, the camera also has a DMF mode that allows for instant manual FOCUS override. That’s very useful in poor lighting conditions, as it allows you to achieve general FOCUS with the AF, then turn the FOCUS ring to achieve critical FOCUS instantly and easily.
Manual focusing is an area where mirrorless cameras run laps around DSLRs. Electronic viewfinders allow mirrorless cameras to use several MF aids in order to help the user nail FOCUS every time, making the entire process remarkably easy.
For obvious reasons, manual focusing works best with stationary subjects.
The α7 II features several of those aids, including FOCUS peaking and magnification. Both features can be configured to engage automatically when turning the FOCUS ring on native FE lenses, which is super convenient. If you’re using older manual lenses with no electrical contacts, you can still assign these functions to any of the customizable buttons. This is not as convenient, but still miles ahead of using these lenses on traditional DSLRs.
You can configure peaking and magnification to engage automatically with native E-mount lenses.
By default, you can press either C1 or C2 to activate FOCUS magnification on the α7 II while in MF mode. Press the button once and you get a small highlighted rectangle you can move around the frame using the control wheel. Once the highlighted area is where you want it, press the button again to zoom in on that area. Press it once more and you zoom in even further. Pressing the shutter release will disengage magnification and allow you to take the picture.
You can also assign the peaking and magnify functions to any of the customizable buttons with adapted manual lenses.
As for FOCUS peaking, you can adjust the peaking level (High/Mid/Low/Off) and color (Red/Yellow/White) on the camera’s menu system to fine-tune it to your preferred behavior. Be aware that the higher you go, the less accurate peaking becomes. Conversely, the lower you go, the more unforgiving focusing is, so you may need to use magnification together with peaking to achieve critical FOCUS. Generally speaking, the Mid setting usually offers the best compromise between accuracy and ease of use.
Both of these features make the α7 II a breeze to use with manual lenses, native or adapted. If you enjoy the slower MF experience, or want to use MF for video recording, you’ll love that about the α7 II.
In-Body Image Stabilization
One of the hallmark features of the α7 II camera is the use of 5-axis In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) that corrects for pitch, yaw and roll, as well as shift in the X and Y directions. This was the first Full Frame IBIS system in the world, and still today the only other Full Frame cameras that feature IBIS are Sony’s own α7R II and α7S II.
The α7 II has SteadyShot built in, which is Sony’s branding for their 5-axis in-body image stabilization technology.
Stabilizing a Full Frame sensor is no easy task, but Sony appears to have done a pretty good job of it with the α7 II. Sony claims up to 4.5 stops of stabilization with the system, but this is somewhat optimistic in real-world use. 2-3 stops are easily achievable though, especially with good technique.
IBIS performance may not be as good on the α7 II as it is on some of Olympus’s Micro Four Thirds cameras, but that’s understandable. Stabilizing a MFT sensor is a far easier task, and Olympus has several years of experience designing those systems. For a first take, however, Sony’s IBIS implementation is no slouch.
Sony’s 5-axis IBIS is rated to provide 4.5 stops of stabilization, although that is somewhat optimistic in real-world use. This picture was shot handheld at 1/4s, which at the 55mm focal length is equivalent to about 3.5 stops of stabilization.
The way IBIS works on the α7 II is by talking to the lens and fine-tuning the system to the focal length that’s being used. With native FE lenses, this communication happens automatically, even with zoom lenses, where focal length can vary across shots. For lenses that already have Optical SteadyShot (OSS) built in, both the lens’s and the camera’s stabilization systems will work together to obtain the best possible performance.
However, one of the great aspects of the α7 II’s IBIS is that it works with all lenses, not just native FE lenses. There’s an option in the camera’s menu system where the user can introduce the focal length of the lens, meaning you can use it with adapted lenses, even old manual ones. That’s incredibly useful.
Best of all, IBIS works for video too, which makes it very easy to shoot high-quality videos without the need for cumbersome external stabilizing rigs.
No matter how you slice it, IBIS is one of the best features of the α7 II, and probably the feature that separates it the most from DSLRs in terms of actual functionality.
While it doesn’t offer internal 4K video recording — something both the α7R II and α7S II can do — the α7 II is capable of pretty clean 1080p footage at up to 50 Mbps / 60 fps. That’s good enough for most applications, especially online. 4K video may be the future, but in the present — you know, where we actually live — it’s still very much a nice-to-have feature for most people, not a must-have.
Video formats supported by the α7 II include XAVC S (up to 50 Mbps), AVCHD (up to 28 Mbps), and MP4 (up to 12 Mbps).
One aspect about Sony cameras in general is that, depending on where you bought yours, it may be a 50i-capable or 60i-capable device. Depending on which one it is, it’ll record video at 50 or 60 frames per second, respectively. This is in order to be compatible with the PAL/NTSC video standards that are used in different regions around the world. Obviously, you should have gotten the camera that matches your own region: 60i (NTSC) in most of America, and 50i (PAL) almost everywhere else.
The 50i version of the camera has a menu item that allows you to switch between PAL and NTSC modes.
The only practical difference between the two models is that 50i cameras have a menu item that allows you to switch between PAL and NTSC modes, meaning they’re actually compatible with both systems, whereas 60i cameras are NTSC-only. Obviously, given the choice to buy one or the other, the most versatile choice would be to go with the PAL version, even if you live in an NTSC region. In practice, though, this isn’t something you need to be concerned about, unless you’re planning to buy your camera in the gray market, or while away on an international trip.
All in all, the α7 II is a perfectly decent video camera, but it remains a stills camera at heart. If you’re primarily a video shooter, then you’ll probably be better served by the α7S-series cameras, both of which are much better at video.
After the recently released 2.0 firmware update, the α7 II now supports 14-bit uncompressed RAW files in addition to the previous 12-bit compressed ones.
The lack of uncompressed RAW files on the α7-series cameras had been a frequent source of criticism for Sony, until they announced full 14-bit uncompressed RAW support when they released the α7S II camera a couple months ago. Since then, the same feature has made its way into the α7R II, the RX1R II and now the α7 II via firmware updates.
Uncompressed RAW files only provide slight gains in image quality and only in very specific situations, like when recovering shadows in post production by raising exposure.
However, in the end it certainly looks like this was much ado about nothing. In real-world shooting, uncompressed RAW files offer nearly identical image quality as the old compressed files. Only in extreme cases, like when adjusting exposure by a full five stops in post production, are you likely to notice any differences between the two types of file.
Center crop from test scene, exposure raised in Lightroom by 3 full stops. Above: Compressed RAW. Below: Uncompressed RAW. There are no discernible differences between them.
Still, if there were no penalties to using uncompressed RAW files, enabling the feature would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly true.
The α7 II’s uncompressed RAW files weigh approximately 49 MB each, roughly double the size of the 24 MB compressed files. In practice, this means everything about using the camera becomes twice as slow, including buffer clearing times and buffer depths, two of the most important aspects to a camera’s user experience.
Indeed, using the α7 II with uncompressed RAW feels much like using an older computer that’s struggling to keep up with its workload all the time. If there were massive gains in image quality to be had, it might have been worth it. As it is, though, it’s hard to understand why anybody would want to enable the feature.
This is not to bash on Sony, mind you. Quite the contrary, in fact: if anything, their RAW compression algorithm has proven to be worthy of praise, which kind of makes you wonder if there’s a legitimate reason to keep using uncompressed RAW files at all in the industry.
Performance and Battery Life
The α7 II can shoot up to 5 frames per second in burst mode, which is good enough to capture any moment in everyday scenes. If you’re a sports shooter or require a higher burst rate, though, this may not be the best camera for you.
One thing to point out is that continuous AF is available during burst mode. This definitely helps get more in-FOCUS shots when tracking subjects.
The buffer is good for 52 shots in Extra Fine JPEG mode, 28 shots in compressed RAW mode and 24 in compressed RAW Fine JPEG mode. These are excellent values all around, so buffer depth is not a concern with this camera. However, if you’re shooting in uncompressed RAW mode after the 2.0 firmware update, you may find the 14-shot buffer depth a bit limiting in everyday use.
The α7 II can take up to 14 shots in uncompressed RAW mode, which can be a bit limiting. You get a red light on the bottom right area when the camera is busy clearing the buffer.
The time it takes the camera to write those shots to the card is a different matter, unfortunately. Using a Class 10 Samsung 64GB Pro SDXC card, it takes the camera well over 10 seconds to clear the RAW buffer, and over half a minute to clear the JPEG buffer. This may be reasonable given the generous buffer depths, but it’s still occasionally annoying.
While the camera is busy clearing the buffers, you get a red warning light on the bottom right part of the back panel, indicating you cannot preview images in Playback mode. If you attempt to, you get an error message on the LCD prompting you to wait until the buffer is completely cleared. Surprisingly, though, you can still fire additional shots, which are simply queued up in the buffer.
Attempting to enter Playback mode while the red light is on results in an error message.
Overall, the α7 II’s performance is pretty good for normal use, although if you do a ton of burst shooting, there are faster options out there.
As for battery life, the α7 II uses standard NP-FW50 batteries. This is a very popular battery, used by nearly all E-mount cameras, and you can buy original Sony batteries or cheaper 3rd-party ones.
The camera uses the same NP-FW50 batteries as many other models.
The α7 II is rated for up to 340 shots when using the LCD and up to 270 shots when using the EVF. This is explained by the higher refresh rate of the EVF compared to the LCD. These figures are right in line with most mirrorless cameras, but they fall well short of comparable DSLRs. For instance, the Nikon D750’s battery is rated for over 1,000 shots.
At up to 340 shots on a single charge, battery life is good, but still considerably shorter than that of comparable DSLRs.
In practice, though, battery life is good enough to last a full day of casual shooting, although if you plan on doing something more intensive, you should definitely bring at least an extra battery. Logically, the more you use power-hungry features like the EVF or video recording, the shorter your battery life will be.
One problem with the included USB charger is that it doesn’t let you charge a spare battery while you’re using the camera. If you use multiple batteries — and you really, really should — we recommend buying an external charger.
Finally, if you don’t want to bother changing batteries in the middle of a shoot, then the VGC2EM vertical battery grip is a great choice. It can hold up to two batteries, and is Smart enough to deplete one first before using the other one, giving you roughly twice the battery life.
The Multi Interface Hotshoe
The α7 II, just like most modern E-mount cameras, uses Sony’s new Multi Interface hotshoe, meaning flashes and other shoe-mounted accessories from the older A-mount system are not supported. You can still use them with an adapter if you need to, but it’s recommended to go with native Multi Interface flashes and accessories instead.
The α7 II uses Sony’s new Multi Interface hotshoe.
If you need a flash, Sony’s own offerings are full-featured and excellent, if a bit pricey. Depending on your needs, these are your options:
- Sony HVL-F20M: A small and portable flash with more power than it looks like.
- Sony HVL-F32M: A compact, powerful flash that offers high-speed sync (HSS) both on and off-camera.
- Sony HVL-F43M: A more complete medium-sized flash with on/off-camera HSS. It can also control the power output of several off-camera flashes wirelessly for more complex lighting schemes.
- Sony HVL-F60M: The most powerful and complete flash available for the system.
The Sony HVL-F43M is a nice full-featured flash for this camera, but it doesn’t come cheap.
As you can see, each model builds on the features and power of the previous one, so in this case, you do get what you pay for.
However, if you want to save some money, there are several 3rd-party flashes that will give you most of the same features and even a few extra ones, for a whole lot less cash. Here are a few of our favorite ones:
- Neewer Speedlite MK320: A compact flash that is significantly more powerful than Sony’s entry-level model and comes in at half the price.
- Metz 44 AF-1 Digital: A more affordable alternative to the HVL-F43M flash from Sony, and a great all-around flash with plenty of power.
- Nissin Di700A Flash Kit with Air 1 Commander: One annoying limitation of the Sony flashes is that when used off-camera, they can’t be triggered via radio, only by another on-camera flash. That means if you want to use a Sony flash off-camera, you’ll need to buy at least two of them. Luckily, this flash from Nissin can do what the Sonys can’t, and it even comes with an included radio trigger, giving you everything you need in a neat package that costs way less than the equivalent Sony model. Talk about a win-win.
With the Sony HVL-F43M flash, the α7 II can control complex lighting setups wirelessly.
The Full Frame E-mount System: Lenses
The Full Frame E-mount system is still very young, but Sony has been working non-stop, releasing many excellent pieces of glass in a very short period of time. Today, there are already 11 Sony-made FE lenses, with 6 more coming in early 2016. This doesn’t take into account 3rd-party native FE lenses from Zeiss, Samyang, Mitakon, etc.
There are currently 11 Sony-made Full Frame E-mount lenses, with 6 more coming in early 2016.
All FE lenses made by Sony or Zeiss have fantastic build quality and excellent optical performance, and many 3rd-party ones are almost as good, but considerably more affordable.
If you’re wondering which lenses to buy with your α7 II camera, we can help.
Here’s a list of some autofocus prime lenses we love:
- Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2: A superb, fast wide angle prime lens from Zeiss.
- Sony FE 28mm f/2: The most affordable FE lens from Sony and an excellent value.
- Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/2.8 Sonnar T: A great, sharp compact prime for everyday use.
- Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T: The fastest first party lens for the FE system and an optical gem with outstanding image quality.
- Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 Sonnar T: Probably the sharpest FE lens and a great standard lens for all-around use. See our own review for more information.
- Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8: The best portrait lens for the system with the classic Zeiss look.
- Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS: A super sharp, macro-capable lens from Sony that doubles as a very good portrait lens.
The Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 Sonnar T is one of our favorite FE lenses. Check out our review of it here.
If you prefer manual FOCUS lenses, these ones are also pretty awesome:
- Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T: A great-performing wide-angle lens with unmatched versatility.
- Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T: Gorgeous standard lens for manual FOCUS lovers.
- Rokinon 50mm f/1.4: A fast and affordable standard lens that is almost as good as the Loxia.
- Mitakon Zhongyi 85mm f/1.2 Speedmaster: A sharp, fast portrait lens that won’t break the bank.
Finally, check out these excellent zoom lenses:
- Sony Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS Vario-Tessar T: Sharp and contrasty wide-angle zoom for travel and landscape photography.
- Sony Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 OSS Vario-Tessar T: Solid all-around performer and the most versatile lens in the lineup.
- Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS: A great telephoto lens with impressive sharpness that remains compact.
The Sony Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 OSS Vario-Tessar T is a high-quality and versatile standard zoom.
The Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS is a fantastic telephoto zoom for the system that is perfect for portraits.
There are still a few specialty lenses absent from the lineup, like faster f/1.2 and f/1.4 primes, ultra-wide angle and super telephoto zooms, for example, but this is a pretty strong selection already. It’s impressive how far the system has come in just a couple of years, and it doesn’t look like Sony is going to lift the foot off the gas anytime soon.
The FE lens lineup is pretty strong already, and it’s only going to get stronger in the future.
At this point, the needs of most photographers should be well covered, and for those that need something a bit more special, there’s always the choice to go with adapted lenses instead.
Thanks to the E-mount system’s short flange distance, the α7-series cameras are compatible with a wide range of old SLR and rangefinder lenses via the use of adapters. The huge world of legacy manual lenses from the film era, as well as many superb rangefinder lenses for the Leica M system are just some of the options you have with this camera. No other system out there is as versatile when it comes to using adapted lenses.
The α7 II is compatible with a huge selection of old manual lenses from the film era. Pictured here: Canon FDn 35mm f/2 with Fotodiox FD-NEX adapter, and Canon FDn 50mm f/1.8.
If you already own some legacy lenses, or are looking to save some cash by going with adapted manual lenses, you’ll need to get the appropriate adapter first. There are many different models from very different manufacturers, and while most will get the job done, it’s important to choose one that gets the details right in order to avoid issues down the road.
With that in mind, we recommend Fotodiox adapters for your α7 II camera. If you don’t mind paying a little more for something that’s even better made, Metabones adapters are even nicer. You’ll probably find plenty of off-brand cheap adapters as well, but we wouldn’t recommend risking it. In this case, buying cheap can mean buying often, so play it safe and go with a trusted manufacturer instead.
Left to right: Canon FDn 35mm f/2 lens, Fotodiox FD-NEX adapter, and Canon FDn 50mm f/1.8 lens.
Besides the convenience of using manual lenses, the α7 II is also compatible with DSLR autofocus lenses for the Canon EF and Sony A mounts.
It used to be that autofocus performance was terrible with DSLR lenses, unless you were using the expensive LA-EA4 adapter for the Sony A-mount. However, after the 2.0 firmware update, that is no longer the case. This update introduced the option to use phase-detection autofocus with adapted lenses, which opened up a whole new world of possibilities to α7 II users overnight.
Indeed, the α7 II can now use not only Sony A-mount lenses with near-native performance, but also Canon EF-mount lenses, including the spectacular Canon L lenses and the gorgeous Sigma Art primes.
This not only means getting access to lenses that simply don’t exist natively in the E-mount system (yet), but also getting access to similar lenses that offer better performance, a more affordable price, or both.
If you need fast f/2.8 zooms, for example, you can now choose to go with the outstanding-but-pricey Canon L zooms or the almost-as-good-but-quite-cheaper Tamron Di VC zooms. Similarly, if you’re not sold on the super expensive Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T, you can now choose to go with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art instead. No matter how you look at it, this is a huge win.
The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art is a stunning DSLR lens that is now available to α7 II users with near native performance. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.
However, it’s not all rosy. One downside is that performance with Canon EF-mount DSLR lenses varies significantly across lenses, and it also depends on the particular adapter you’re using. For that reason, we recommend the Metabones EF-NEX T Mark IV adapter, which can be firmware updated to ensure compatibility with as many Canon lenses as possible. In any case, be sure to check that the lens adapter combination you’re interested in works correctly with the α7 II before buying. Metabones keeps an updated registry of Canon lenses that have been verified to work here.
A-mount lenses with Sony’s own LA-EA3 adapter should be safe to use, but please note that AF is only available with SSM A-mount lenses, as older screw-based A-mount Minolta lenses are only compatible with the more expensive LA-EA4 adapter.
Finally, the LA-EA4 adapter has its own AF system built in, and the α7 II will default to using that instead of its own PDAF system with it. Again, the α7 II’s native PDAF system is not available with the LA-EA4 adapter, so keep that in mind.
Despite these caveats, however, using adapted lenses with the α7 II is completely viable for everyday use, and performance is more than reasonable in most cases. This makes the α7 II one of the most versatile Full Frame cameras in the world, and an even better value today than when it was announced.
Real World Usage and Image Samples
The α7 II is a joy to use in most everyday situations. Its excellent handling and responsiveness, its snappy autofocus and the super-convenient 5-axis IBIS make it a powerhouse of a camera, and the gorgeous image quality of its 24.3-Megapixel Full Frame sensor is sure to not disappoint even the most discerning users.
When the α7 II is used as intended, it really shines. The EVF is bright and clear, and the camera is always well-behaved. Manual focusing is also a breeze, even with fast lenses, making it well suited for studio photography.
The tilting LCD makes short work of composing your images, and the ability to remotely control the camera and add extra features via the PlayMemories store makes it even more versatile.
The tilting LCD makes it easy to compose your images.
Naturally, there are also some aspects that could be improved upon, but they’re fairly minor and don’t detract from the overall experience in a meaningful way.
One such aspect is FOCUS point selection. Instead of having a dedicated control for that, you first need to press a button to enter the FOCUS settings dialog and then proceed to move the FOCUS point around by pressing the arrows on the control wheel. Such a frequently-used function could really use a shortcut, for example.
Luckily, thanks to the built-in subject tracking and eye detection technology, the α7 II is Smart enough to figure out the best focusing point in about 80% of cases. That’s not bad at all, but for the remaining 20% of cases, changing the FOCUS point manually is still harder than it should.
Another point of friction is the poorly-made memory card door. It just feels cheap and not nearly as solid as the rest of the camera’s body. To make matters worse, it’s quite awkwardly placed on the right side of the camera, precisely where the palm of your hand rests when you’re holding it. For that reason, it’s pretty easy to accidentally open the door by simply grabbing the camera. This can be quite maddening when it happens — and unfortunately, it does happen.
The memory card door wiggles a fair bit, and can be opened accidentally because it’s poorly positioned.
Now, as far as mirrorless cameras have come in recent years, DSLRs continue to offer tougher weather sealing, more resistant bodies, faster and more accurate FOCUS tracking, and redundant data storage. For everything action-related, these are still the type of cameras to get, but the gap is closing fast.
Similarly, if you plan on using it for astrophotography and other situations where extreme low-light sensitivity is required, the α7S II will be a much better choice. And of course, if you need to print large or need extensive cropping ability, a high-resolution body like the α7R II is what you’re looking for.
The α7 II does not excel at any of those things, but it’s not terrible at them, either. It is, by definition, a camera optimized for all-around use and as such, it may struggle a bit in niche applications like the aforementioned ones.
The α7 II hits a very good spot between features, convenience, size, weight, image quality, versatility, and affordability. Unless you have very specific needs that only specialized gear can serve, it really doesn’t get much better than this.
Room for Improvement
The α7 II is a great camera, but as you’ve seen throughout this review, it’s far from perfect. While it righted many of the wrongs of the original α7, there are still plenty of things here that could use some attention from Sony. With that in mind, here are a few possible enhancements we would like to see in a future α7 Mark III. In no particular order:
- Dual SD-card slots and a more solid memory card door.
- Tougher weather sealing.
- A touchscreen.
- A more ergonomic grip.
- Better battery life.
- Better High-ISO performance and wider dynamic range.
- Faster buffer clearance speeds.
- Lossless compression for RAW files.
- Better IBIS performance.
- A better mobile app.
- Focus-point selection shortcuts.
- built-in features like time-lapse.
- high-quality and fast FE lenses.
That looks like a long list, but the truth is, even though there’s clearly some room for improvement here and there, the α7 II already performs pretty decently in many of these areas. The bottom point is, don’t let this laundry list of complaints dissuade you from buying the α7 II, because it is a truly fantastic camera.
The α7 II is a wonderfully versatile camera that puts Full Frame image quality within anyone’s reach, and that alone is a worthy achievement. The days when these cameras were so expensive that only full-time professional photographers could afford to buy one are over, and we’re all better off for it.
What the α7 II represents, therefore, is the beginning of a new era. Sensor technology appears to have reached a good-enough state, and companies are increasingly trying to differentiate themselves by competing on other fronts. In that sense, mirrorless technology represents a way forward for companies that have been trying to break Canon and Nikon’s dominance in the market for years.
Sony appears poised to take down these two giants, and they’re certainly sparing no expense to compete on equal terms with them. Unless Canon and Nikon embrace mirrorless going forward, they may end up being slowly but surely left behind by the rest of the industry. The advantages of DSLRs over mirrorless cameras are diminishing by the day, and every year fewer people need a DSLR to get their job done.
The original Sony α7 was an ambitious product, but it was limited in several crucial ways. The α7 II takes a bold idea and refines it with equal measures of substance and style. If the Full Frame E-mount system continues to evolve at the same breakneck pace it’s kept so far, the future of mirrorless cameras appears decidedly bright.
In the meantime, however, there’s plenty to enjoy in the present.
The Atlas of Design, Vol. 3
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