Let’s review the Sony A7MII

It’s the first time I’m writing a review of a camera. Recently bought this new model, the Sony A7 Mark II (ILCE7M2), one of the most talked about latest offering by any camera company, today. So what’s so special about it? Well, in two words, Mirrorless Full-Frame!

The A7II in my hand… Decorated in a Gariz half-case, and a Gordy’s leather wrist strap

As photographers get either experienced, or just richer (with or without experience), many of us tend to understand that a 35mm full-frame sensor can give us the ultimate image quality, that any digital camera can give (not counting the ultra-expensive medium or large format ones yet). That’s one reason why the cameras like Nikon D800, D810, D750, or Canon 5D, 6D, etc. are so popular among the pros today. But have you seen the bulky size and weight of those monsters? While our mobiles are getting thinner and lighter (though larger screens) with more power, would you really want the more powerful cameras to be getting thicker and heavier? Now that’s where Sony entered the full-frame market, bringing the future ready technology of mirrorless cameras with the 35mm sensor it always deserved. And having experienced with the super-light Olympus OM-D E-M5 mirrorless camera for last 3+ years, I’m not moving back to the bulky monsters, just for a larger sensor.

Alright, enough of brand blabbering. Let’s get down to my camera, and my observations so far. I purchased this as body only, without the kit lens, as personally I know I won’t really be using the kit lens so often (my previous camera’s kit lens is used no more than 10% or time). Otherwise it comes with a 28-70mm kit lens. Till now, I was always used to “calculate” the effective focal length for any lens, in terms of 35mm; e.g. the OM-D’s kit lens 12-50mm would be effectively 24-100mm. But now it strikes me, that this 28-70mm is actually on a 35mm. Woah, no more 2x or 1.6x calculations! One maths reduced! 😛

So, as I’m more inclined towards people/streets and landscape photography, the lenses I got for myself, specifically for this camera are Zeiss 35mm f/2.8, and a voigtlander 12mm f/5.6 (widest full frame lens available, I guess). BTW, the voigtlander lens has a Leica M-mount, and not the Sony’s FE Mount.

A click with the Voigtlander 12mm

That brings me to the next big advantage of the mirrorless cameras in general. We can practically use any lens in the world, from any mount, with an appropriate adapter, on a mirrorless camera. The adapter manufacturers have recognized this and have actually made adapters for just about every lens mount ever made in the world. So those who crib about less-range-of-lenses-available for any non-Canikon camp, can note that the mirrorless camera owners have access to all of their lenses, and much more. The world-class lenses from Mamiya, Leica, Hasselblad, Zeiss, Pentax, Minolta, you name it and there’s an adapter for the lens mount to fit on the mirrorless cameras. Sony’s E-mount is not exception to that. As of now, I got adapters for the Leica M-mount (to use the voigtlander 12mm), a pentax M-42 screw mount (to use my old pentax lenses like 50mm f/1.4), a Canon FD mount (to use old 55mm f/1.2), and a Nikon mount (to use lenses owned by my friends 😉 ).

Ofcourse, as you might’ve guessed, all of the above lenses would neither auto-focus on the camera, nor even electronically communicate with the camera. And Sony have kept that in mind to make the necessary features to suit the use of adapters with any lens you could lay your hands on. The most important two features on those lines include:

  1. In body image stabilization (IBIS): Steady-shot, as Sony calls it, is a sensor-shift IS, that makes it easy to use any lens in the world, without worrying about IS or VR in the lens. Note, however, that while the native FE-mount lenses enjoy a 5-axis IS, the manual lenses would get only 3-axis IS, which is still way better than having no IS. Sony claims this IS to be as good as upto 4.5 stops. This simply means that the camera allows you to pull your shutter speeds down by upto 4.5 stops and still be able to shoot stabilized images handheld. Frankly, I haven’t tested it in so much detail, but in general the IBIS works great for me, with both the AF as well as MF lenses.
  2. Focus Peaking: When you manually focus with the lenses on adapters, the camera sensor (the firmware to be precise) detects what area is truly in focus (by detecting contrast) and marks it in a color you can choose. This makes it truly efficient and quick to focus manually. This is also combined with Focus Magnification, to enable even more precise and sharp focus.
Shot with a Super Takumar 50mm f/1.4 M42 mount lens on adapter

With these features, it has made life so much easier to use the manual lenses (and there’re some absolute gems among those), with this camera.

Ofcourse, not all non-E-mount lenses need to be manual on this camera. There are indeed autofocus capable adapters available for the Sony A-Mount and Canon EF lenses. However, a word of caution on those; do not expect the same speed of AF using those adapters, as you’d expect on the native lens-camera combinations.

Enough about lenses; now lets move onto the gadget itself. The detailed feature list of the A7MII camera can be seen on their and many other websites. So I’d rather focus on the ones important to me, and ones I’ve tried out myself.

  1. A well built magnesium alloy weather-proof body makes the camera look and feel truly solid and durable. And ofcourse the improved hand grip, compared to the previous model A7, has made the camera way better to hold comfortably. Even the controls and dials feel solid and high quality to the hands.
  2. Though not as lightweight as my OM-D, it’s still way lighter than the big full-frame monsters. So I can carry my camera bag with this camera and 2-3 lenses and other accessories, without any back pain or shoulder pain. Also, worth noting, is that all the lenses made for mirrorless cameras are way lighter than the equivalent FX lenses made for the dSLRs. So you need to consider the combined weight of the body+lenses.
  3. Excellent fast AF and continuous focus tracking makes it a breeze to shoot fast moving action, like sports, kids, pets, etc.
  4. Almost every button on the body is customizable and you can re-assign any button to perform a different function, as per your own preferences.
    1. One gripe here, though, is the limited set of functions available to be customized. Some really required functions like quick switching between LCD and EVF, are missing from the customizable functions.
  1. Built in Wifi is a useful feature, as it enables you to use your smartphone as a remote control, even with a preview screen. You can surely go crazy with selfies using this feature. And after clicking, it even transfers the image to your phone, so you can instantly share it on social media if you wish.
  2. Excellent ISO performance makes another important feature in this camera when shooting under low light conditions. I’ve myself clicked photos upto 12800 ISO, and found the ones upto 10000 ISO to be quite “acceptable”, in terms of fine noise. Even the noise produced at 12800 can be easily controlled in software post-processing, retaining reasonable sharpness and colors of the image.
Bikes Panning
An example of ISO 5000 shot
  1. They’ve implemented a new feature called intelligent exposure on Auto-ISO. This means, when you shoot at Aperture Priority mode, with Auto ISO, the camera decides minimum shutter speed limit based on the focal length of the lens you’re using. And it’s intelligent enough as I show with examples: e.g. If you’re shooting at 100mm the minimum shutter gets set to 1/100, while varying ISO to get the optimum exposure; at 70mm it’d be 1/80. However, if you go wide, like 24mm or 35mm, the shutter won’t go slower than 1/60, which the camera’s IBIS can easily handle to shoot sharp pictures handheld.
  2. Bright and responsive EVF and LCD screens, make it a breeze to view and focus even in fairly dark situations, where the optical viewfinders of dSLRs pose an obvious disadvantage.
  3. Compared to older Sony cameras, they’ve now made the flash-hotshoe more generic compatible, so you don’t necessarily have to buy a Sony compatible external flash. Even the Nikon/canon/olympus compatible flashes work well on it, though without any TTL. If you really need eTTL, then you’d still need to buy a sony multi-interface compatible flash.
  4. Tiltable LCD makes it easy to take pictures from different and difficult angles.
    1. However, I’d have loved it to be fully articulated, instead of limited movement to just up & down facing.
  5. Exposure dial on top makes it easy to shoot quickly, especially on A or S mode.
  6. The new XAVC-S video format is supposed to be an excellent one for video makers, though I’ve yet to try it myself.
  7. Almost 40% of all dSLRs and mirrorless cameras in the market today use sensors made by Sony. So undoubtedly, this camera gives an amazing image quality with the sony sensor and BIONZ-X processor behind it, comparable with most big monsters in the market. So I’m satisfied now, that I’m not getting any less than anyone.
  8. This should be one of the cheapest full-frame camera offering nothing less than the more expensive and heavy bombs out there.
As the light shines on me…

With all those awesome features and positives, there surely are a few cons with this camera and some with mirrorless cameras in general:

  1. Due to always on electronics for LCD, IBIS, AF, etc., combined with not so great batteries in the market yet, the battery life on mirrorless cameras do disappoint big time. Even though we’ve heard news of some amazing inventions in battery technology, that promises huge longevity and power from those, none of them have truly hit the mainstream to be seen in these future camera technology.
    1. I just keep a couple of extra batteries with me at all times, and this disadvantage doesn’t really hurt too bad. It just needs getting used to.
  1. Sony doesn’t supply any external battery charger with this camera, unfortunately. Though now they’ve started to include one as a free offer, with the package, in India.
  2. The burst rate of 5fps, still seems slow compared to many other mirrorless (though none FF) and even pro dSLRs today.
  3. As I mentioned above, some required features are missing from the customizing options, like:
    1. Option to quickly switch between LCD and EVF, while switching off the auto switch (There was button for this, on my OM-D, so I really miss the functionality now). However, as this is just a software gap, I do hope a future firmware update should be able to fill it up.
    2. Quick shifting of selectable focus points. On my OM-D, I could just click the side arrow buttons to move the focus points around. But on this A7Mii, I need to click two buttons to get to the focus point movement. Again, I’m hopeful of a future firmware covering this gap.
  1. In addition to the intelligent exposure on Auto-ISO, it’d be very useful to have a setting in the menu to set our own minimum shutter speeds with Auto ISO.
  2. No included flash. Really wish Sony could’ve added an internal flash to the unit, or atleast given an additional small flash unit, like Olympus does with it’s OM-D.
  3. The doors for SD card and cable connectors feel low quality, a complete mismatch with the solid body of the camera.
  4. There’re no small lenses, like pancake lens, for this camera. The native lenses, though of very high quality, are physically bigger than one would expect for a mirrorless compact camera system. Ofcourse, as mentioned above, they’re still way smaller and lighter than the big barrels made for the dSLRs, I’d love to have even smaller form-factors, especially for the fast primes.
  5. Although the LCD screen is articulated, it’s high time Sony makes it completely rotatable, like in many other cameras available since a few years now.
  6. There’s no function to make double exposure in camera. However, one needs to purchase an app from their playmemories app store, to achieve this.
  7. Speaking of apps, after having purchased an expensive camera, why do we still need to buy the apps from Sony to do various things like timelapse, star-trails, double exposure, etc.? But then, for most of those stuff, I’d rather prefer to use external tools and softwares, rather than in-camera apps.
  8. A subtle thing I noticed, is with slow shutter speed shooting. Most cameras would make a sound as the shutter opens and a second sound when it closes. But this one doesn’t make any sound on shutter opening, just the screen goes blank, and then makes the usual sound on shutter closing. So don’t expect a helpful audio cue when doing a slow-shutter exposure.

Update: Regarding the last point, just found out, thanks to many helpful people on some forums, this behavior is controlled by a setting called e-Front Curtain Shut. under the settings menu. As a default, this option is set to “On”. Once I switch it “Off”, the shutter behavior becomes ‘normal’ as I’d expect, though there’d be a bit of vibration introduced. 🙂

Just an abstract, with the Canon FD 55mm, f/1.2 lens on adapter

Having said all the above, it’s been a few weeks with this mean machine, and as of today, I’m thoroughly loving it. If asked whether I’d recommend it to friends, on a scale of 1-10, I’d put an 8 rating.

8 Stars
My rating