We recently put the new Sony A7 mk II through its paces to see what it was capable of and if this is the perfect mirrorless camera.
There is no doubt that Sony is storming the mirrorless world in the last year with its A series of mirrorless cameras. We have the megapixel monster the A7R, the general use A7 and the low light performer A7S.
Now only a year after the first round of releases Sony has updated the A7 with the new A7 mk II.
So what’s new?
Well the headline feature and the one we want to get straight to is the 5 axis in body image stabilisation system that Sony have put in the A7 II. Sony are claiming it will provide up to 4.5 stops of compensation.
It is quite a feat of engineering to fit in body IS into a body this small with such a a large sensor and given the A series popularity for mounting adapted prime lenses, one that is sure to excite a lot of photographers. We’ll get to how good it is shortly.
Other notable changes include a deeper grip with re-positioned shutter button, a new finger dial, more solid construction, improved AF performance and the ability to record video in XAVC S format at upto 50mb/sec.
Same name new design
Although the Sony A7 II shares its name with the A7, Sony have changed the feel of the new mk II in a number of ways. The mk II feels substantially heavier than the original A7 at 599 grams with battery compared to 494g for the A7. It is also 2mm taller and 10mm thicker, thanks largely due to the new deeper grip and more metal used in its construction.
Although the Sony A7 II feels heavier than the previous model we actually prefer it thanks to the improved grip which is deeper and gives a better hold on the camera. It makes it much nicer to carry around in one hand without the fear of it slipping out of your hand. It also offers a better feel when combined with any larger lenses.
One small change that has resulted in a marked improvement is the new position of the shutter button which has moved from the rather awkward position on top of the body on the A7 to the new position which is now on the grip and angled slightly forward. This offers a much more natural shooting position and makes it quicker and more comfortable to press.
Let’s get down to shooting
Image quality is virtually identical to the A7 as Sony has stuck with the same 24mp full frame sensor used in the original A7. No complaints here really about image quality as you are getting wonderful clarity and contrast, good if not great low light performance and plenty of resolution alongside Full frame formats ability to isolate subjects with shallow depth of field.
If we were going to pick fault with image quality it would be that the Nikon D750 seems to eek out better high ISo performance from the same sensor and Sony still does not offer lossless Raw files which can result in slightly poorer quality files which are not able to be pushed quite as far in post processing as those of the D750. However, this is nitpicking and to most the images that the Sony A7 II can produce will be more than enough. We would also mention that despite some complaints on the internet about Sony Jpegs we cannot fault the colours that this camera is capable of producing, they are rich, contrasty and beautiful in our opinion.
So just how good is the new image stabilisation and does it work with Leica/Zeiss/Canon/Nikon primes?
This is the first full frame mirrorless camera with in body Image Stabilisation. In theory this will give all the benefits of a full frame sensor and stabilise any lens attached to the camera. The possibilities for low light shooting are incredible with these two technologies working together.
When you shoot non stabilised lenses on the Sony A7 II the image in the viewfinder is now stabilised too and this not only allows precise and steady framing it also makes manually focussing using magnified view possible. Without IS it can be difficult to handhold the camera steady enough to manually focus effectively but with the stabilised image this is now a breeze.
During testing we found that the IS combined with the Zeiss FE35mm 2.8 and the Zeiss FE 55mm 1.8 primes worked very well.
We were able to shoot handheld shots with the FE 55mm 1.8 and 35mm f/2.8 at shutter speeds slow as 0.5 seconds and still get sharp shots.
Overall the addition of in body image stabilisation to the Sony A7 II is a ground breaking advancement in the technology. It allows photographers to create incredible full frame shots at previously unthinkable shutter speeds. It transforms the usability of this camera when combined with manual focus primes and for static subjects enables incredible low light performance. Combine the High ISo performance of a full frame sensor with the image stabilisation of the Sony A7 II alongside a bright prime and you can virtually shoot in the dark.
There are a few niggles to be aware of with the Sony A7 mk II and indeed all of the Sony A series bodies.
We found that for street shooting the start up time from sleep mode was a little slow and could result in missed shots. While auto-focus is improved from the original A7 it can still hunt a little during low light.
Button placement and general ergonomics are not as good as some such as the Fuji X-T1. When you shoot lots of different cameras as we do some just feel like they were built by photographers and some feel like they were built by engineers. The Sony is definitely in the latter camp. We found the placement of the zoom button a little unusual and the menu system still takes some getting used to. However overall there really is not much to complain about .
If you want the best image quality in a small package then the Sony A7 II deserves serious consideration.