Just a year after the release of the the ground-breaking fullframe mirrorless Sony a7 and a7R, Sony is back with the next generation Sony a7 II that builds upon the strengths of the original Sony a7 and adds several key enhancements and refinements.
Sony a7 II – Body Only ($1,699) or Sony a7 II Kit with FE 28-70mm lens ($1,999) is priced at the same release price as the original Sony a7. It’s the fourth member of the Sony a7-series line-up, as Sony continues their path of creating specialized cameras with unique virtues that other cameras cannot realize – even other Sony cameras. Expect this trend to continue unless it’s one day possible to make a single camera that excels at everything.
If I don’t mention something – it’s because it’s unchanged from the original Sony a7 – which means it won’t match low light capabilities of a7S, yes, it has the same 24mp sensor and the low-pass filter has not been removed, there’s no touchscreen navigation and no silent shutter…
Here’s what I consider to be the most important changes:
5-Axis Sensor-Shift Stabilization
With a7 II 5-Axis Sensor-Shift Stabilization – any lens you own – even lenses that could never have it before such as Leica and other legacy glass – can now be image stabilized for the first time on a fullframe sensor both for still and video.
Sony A-mount camera bodies have had image stabilization since 2006. When E-mount was introduced, the goal was to make E-mount bodies as small and light as possible, so Sony chose to put image stabilization into lenses when possible. This represents a great leap in technology to miniaturize the Sensor shift mechanism so 5-Axis image stabilization, only previously achieved in Olympus cameras with sensors 1/4 the size, could fit into a body that’s a mere 10mm deeper than it’s predecessor.
It’s first worth mentioning what image stabilization can and cannot do. In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) can allow you to shoot at slower shutter speeds without blur from camera movement – but it will not freeze subject movement. Image Stabilization won’t stop Usain Bolt in his tracks, but it will allow you to shoot images of a still subject in dim light at slower shutter speeds without camera movement.
It’s important to understand how each axis compensation works and just what they require to function:
Pitch & Yaw Compensation:
Requires the awareness of focal length. It is available from the camera if either the lens provides the information or it’s inputted manually in the menu. In the case of Sony lenses with IS, the camera recognizes and relies on the pitch and yaw compensation of the lens, freeing the cameras IBIS to concentrate on X/Y and Roll.
Requires awareness of both focal length and camera to subject distance (focal distance). Bear in mind that X/Y compensation can’t be provided by a lens (with one exception – see below). If the lens can’t communicate focal distance, then the camera can’t provide it. This is the case for almost all 3rd party lenses (although we haven’t tested an AF capable mount adapter, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work). As for Sony lenses, those without ADI (Advanced Distance Integration) – the ones with 5 pins instead of 8 – also can’t have X/Y.
Requires nothing from the lens, and is always available.
Only those lenses without OSS, such as non-OSS E-mount lenses, and 8-pin A-mount lenses when used with LA-EA series adapters, that can also communicate focal length and focal distance enjoy 5-axis IS from the camera. Sony E mount lenses with OSS get 3-axis compensation from the camera, and the other 2-axis pitch and yaw compensation from the lens.
Other lenses will receive 3-axis IS from the camera IBIS – but even 3-axis is one axis more than what’s available with almost any other image stabilization system. Lens-based image stabilization only controls Pitch and Yaw (with one exception – Canon’s “Hybrid IS” in their 100mm macro). With this exception (at least for now), Sony and Olympus 5-axis IBIS are the only IS systems that offer X/Y and Roll compensation. [EDIT: Pentax SR-equipped cameras have 3-axis IBIS]
Sony a7 II 5-Axis Sensor-Shift Stabilization is designed to work with – not fight – OSS. It can detect when an OSS lens is attached and apply stabilization in the following ways:
Sony E-mount Lenses with OSS:
In-lens OSS system applies Pitch and Yaw stabilization and the in-camera SteadyShot applies horizontal X-axis and vertical Y-axis shift, plus Z-axis Roll. NOTE: When using lenses like the FE 70-200 F4 OSS with an OSS switch on the lens, turning the OSS switch on the lens OFF will turn off in-camera OSS as well.
Sony E-mount Lenses without OSS:
Sony E-mount Lenses without OSS get all 5-Axis sensor shift stabilization in-camera.
Sony A-mount Lenses using LA-EA3 or LA-EA4 Adapter:
the a7 II sensor shift will add image stabilization in all 5-axis. NOTE: SAL 16mm F2.8, SAL 20mm F2.8, SAL 28mm F2.8 and SAL 500mm F8 lenses only get Pitch, Yaw and Roll stabilization when attached using a Sony LA-EA3 or LA-EA4 adapter.
Third-Party Lenses using Lens Adapters:
If the lens adapter can transmit the focal length and focus distance electronically to the a7II, the camera apply all 5-Axis sensor shift stabilization. But if the lens adapter can’t transmit this information to the camera, you must set the focal length manually for the particular focal length used. NOTE: When using 3rd party lenses with image stabilization – TURN OFF OSS on lens or the combined systems will over-compensate.
Manual SteadyShot Settings
Manual SteadyShot settings are available for lenses without electronic connections. You need to manually enter the lens focal length via a menu setting for optimal performance with any lens.
Set it here: Menu > Camera Settings 7 > SteadyShot Settings > SteadyShot Adjust > Manual
Then for optimal results, select the focal length of the lens you’re using (available for 8mm-1000mm)
Image Stabilization and Tripods
Conventional wisdom when shooting on a tripod is turn turn off image stabilization – but it’s unclear if that is still the case with a7II. However a mind much brighter than my own, suggested that from a power consumption standpoint alone, it makes sense to turn off SteadyShot when shooting on a tripod.
EVF Active Stabilization
When SteadyShot is turned on, the live view EVF or LCD screen image is also stabilized either with a half-press the shutter button, while shooting video in movie mode or whenever viewing a magnified the image such as when using Focus Magnifier.
On Sensor Magnesium-Alloy Heat Sink
The 5-Axis Sensor-Shift Stabilization mechanism also moves a magnesium-alloy heat sink that’s attached behind the sensor. This helps dissipate heat when shooting long video clips of long continuous still bursts.
New Look, New Grip and Improved Ergonomics
The changes are minor – more refinements than make-over but the speckled metal look finish and slight changes really enhance the classic rugged looks of the original.
The a7 II features a resigned body with larger grip which makes it easier to securely grip the camera when shooting with large telephoto lenses. The shutter button has been reshaped and shifted forward to for a more natural shooting position so your finger naturally falls in place for a better grip.
Both the C1 and C2 button are now on top are in easy reach of your index finger and the Exposure Compensation dial is in easy reach of your thumb
The a7 II adds a C4 button and both the C3 and C4 buttons are in easy reach of your thumb.
Because of it’s placement, it’s very easy to use the C3 to activate Manual focus magnification. Here’s how:
Menu > Custom Settings 6 > Custom Key Settings > Custom Button 3 > Focus Magnifier
Set Focus Magnification Time to No Limit
Menu > Custom Settings 1 > Focus Magnif. Time > No Limit
Press C3 twice to Zoom to 5.9x or press again to zoom to 11.7x
To go back to full view, half press the shutter.
No More ISO Surprises
A relatively small change – but a good one – is that the control wheel no longer adjusts ISO without first selecting activating that control. To change ISO, you press the right side of the Control Wheel to activate ISO (where White Balance is assigned on a7/A7R/A7S) then press the top or bottom of Control Wheel or turn it to adjust ISO. This should put an end to “phantom ISO changes” caused when the Control Wheel brushes against your body.
USB-Remote, HDMI, Microphone and Headphone ports have all been moved to up to the top left side of the camera body to accommodate the SteadyShot mechanism inside the body. This will also come in handy when tethering or triggering a wired remote with the a7 II mounted vertically using a L-Bracket.
Rock Solid Pro-Style Body
The all-metal body and stainless steel lens mount plus 5-axis SteadyShot add a bit more heft to the Sony a7 II which weighs in at 19.6 oz (556 g) compared to Sony a7 at 14.7 oz (416 g). The extra 4.9 oz isn’t noticeable around my neck – yet coupled with the larger and more ergonomic grip – the a7 II has the SOLID feel of a pro camera body.
Like the VG-C1EM vertical grip for a7/A7R/A7S, the new Vertical Grip VG-C2EM (pre-order here) holds two Sony NP-FW50 Lithium-Ion batteries and it’s designed to fit seamlessly with the ergonomics of the new a7 II body design fitting more comfortably in your hand.
The shutter release is angled slightly forward in the same position as the camera’s grip and it adds Front and rear dials and C1, C2 and C3 buttons in the same position as the camera grip. The C4 button on the body is also in easy reach of your thumb.
A7 II has the same 117 point Phase-Detection AF / 25 point Contrast-Detection AF system as a7 – but by using improved algorithms from A6000 – a7 II offers 30% faster AF Speed and 50% better tracking. In actual use, this means AF locks in extremely quickly – even in low light – and tracks moving objects using Lock-on AF even better than before.
The a7 II start-up is almost instantaneous. Start-up initialization steps reordered for faster start-up – so you’ll spend less time waiting for the camera to boot up.
Better Video Recording Options
While I’m focusing this review on stills, I should mention that the a7 II is a great camera for handheld video – no other large sensor cameras have 5-axis image stabilization.
A7 II includes several of the most popular video features of a7S including the option to shoot video with S-LOG 2 to capture extremely wide dynamic range. This gives you the flexibility to grade the scene to your taste in post. Think of it as shooting in-camera HDR video. And like the a7S, Sony a7 II supports Picture Profiles for those who wish to apply video “looks” in-camera as well as the option to shoot with very flat picture profiles that are perfect adjusting the look when grading.
Sony a7 II shoots 1080 60p with XAVC S codec for 50Mb/s bit rate – compared to 28Mb/s on a7. To record XAVC S, you’ll need to shoot with a SDXC UHS-1 (Class 10/U-3) memory card.
Better High-ISO Noise Reduction for In-Camera Jpegs
Sony a7 II uses the same 24.3mp sensor used in a7 but it with different image processing that promises better high-ISO noise reduction for in-camera jpegs. It uses what Sony calls “area-specific noise reduction” to apply noise reduction differently to areas of fine detail such as edges and textures that you don’t want to soften than from flat areas like solid blue skies. Even so, I still recommend that for best results – turn off in-camera High ISO Noise Reduction and apply it in post.
Higher LCD Resolution
Sony a7 II LCD has 1,230,000 dot resolution with 107/41° tilt vs 921,000 dot resolution with 90/45° tilt on Sony a7, but to be honest, I lost my count at a hundred and one…
Sony a7 II is rated at 350 shots compared to 340 on a7. While this is not much – it’s actually very good news given the added power comsumption of 5-axis image stabilization. My advice when you go out shooting for the day, carry a couple spare Sony NP-FW50 Lithium-Ion batteries in your bag. Unless I’m shooting extremely heavily, I rarely need the third battery, but it’s there if I do.
Sony a7 II In-Stock and Shipping!
New Lower Sony a7 Pricing – Save $400
The original Sony a7 camera remains in the line-up with a $400 price drop:
Sony a7 Body Only $1,298 (with free extra battery + charger from B&H)
Sony a7 Kit with FE 28-70mm lens $1,598 (with free extra battery, charger & 32Gb SD card from B&H)
For more tips and tricks about getting the most out of your Sony a7 series camera, check out my new book ‘Sony a7-Series: From Snapshots to Great Shots’.
It’s your guide to all of the Sony a7-Series cameras including the new a7RII. While the camera manual explains what the camera can do, it doesn’t show how to use the camera to create great images! Starting with the Top Ten things users need to know about the cameras, author Brian Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and Sony Artisan of Imagery, carefully guides you through the operating features of Sony a7, a7R, a7S, a7 II and a7RII and how to use them. Get practical advice from a pro on which settings to use when, great shooting tips, and assignments at end of chapter to practice what you’ve just learned.