This has probably been the most excited I have been about a camera in quite a few years and for a good reason, Sony pulled out all the stops and threw everything plus the kitchen sink in this camera. I don't care what you shoot and who you shoot it for, you need the a7R II in your bag. Feel free to hit me up on Facebook & twitter to follow the latest info on this camera and others. As usual, I always appreciate your support by using the links below when making your purchases and helping me keep the lights on. So enough with the housekeeping and let's see what this camera is capable of.
The a7Rii feels a bit more substantial in the hand than the previous a7 and a7s cameras, and that is a great thing. The larger grip conforms to your hand and with the battery grip in place, it feels like a full size DSLR and without it, fits nicely into a much smaller bag. Whether I wanted the comfort and ergonomics of a full size camera or a smaller, lighter camera for traveling around, the a7R II fit the spot. With 4 custom buttons along with the standard controls, the a7RII easily gave me the fast access I need to my most used functions, but it took a little longer to get used to their locations and I spent a good hour setting up the camera to my liking. And because these functions are customizable and not standard, it does mean that we all will probably customize them differently making sharing cameras a bit more difficult. However, this does allow me to still have only the functions I need most without wasting button space on things I never use...like the Rate button on my 5D3. The only function not customizable that I did end up using was the super 35mm crop mode for video so this still sent me to the menu. Speaking of menus, I can't say I enjoy the menu system. It is difficult to find many items and the graphics are a bit on the ugly side. Also some features such as time lapse functionality are not built in to the camera and require access to a Sony app store on the camera to enable the functionality. It also cost me $10, additional setup time, and another trip to the manual for downloading apps. While Sony does offer explanations for the basic functionality of the camera, the manual definitely caters to the beginner and fails to elaborate on advanced features of the camera. So while I know what the electronic first curtain does, I have no clue if it affects other performance aspects such as shooting speed, stabilization, or quality. The a7R II hardware feels top notch and overall made the camera a joy to use in a variaty of situations.
The A7 series has always had full frame Sensors however the a7R II is now backside illuminated allowing for better low light performance and sensor speed. The last BSI sensor camera I used was the Samsung NX1 and the results are extremely noticeable. Not only do we now have 42MP vs the 36Mp on the original a7R, the camera is now faster and has better low light performance. With an ISO range going up to 100,000 ISO, I had no issues using the camera between 6,400 and 25,000 in a pinch which provided me slightly better noise performance than my Canon 5D Mark III with half the resolution. The dynamic range from this sensor also allowed me to maintain my highlights and boost my shadows in post with almost no loss in image quality. The shadow areas are full of detail and Sony does an excellent job controlling grain and banding even during heavy editing. From an image quality standpoint, the a7RII produces some of the best quality results you can find in any camera. While the a7s still does win the low light battle producing better images over 6400 ISO, we had to make due with significantly lower resolution while the a7RII makes no such compromise.
Focusing has always been a weak point with mirrorless cameras and thankfully the a7R II is finally putting my fears to rest...almost. Focusing was extremely quick and accurate even in very low light situations and you even have additional tools such as face tracking and eye focusing. Continuous focus tracking performance exceeded my expectations as well in my tests and I had no issues maintaining focus on a subject unless the subject was moving fast at close range. One week point was the occasional focus hunting that occurred more often when shooting video with AF. With continuous focus as the only available option, focusing on a still subject would often lead to hunting as the camera would keep trying to ensure the object was in focus rather than trusting the accuracy of the initial focus. For photographers, make sure you are not in continuous focus when shooting still subjects and for videographers, turn off AF after initially achieving focus on non-moving objects.
The a7R II also enabled focusing with Canon EOS lenses which was a feature I never thought was possible. While Sony claimed focus speed and accuracy was on par with Sony lenses, I thought it faired a bit worse, but still respectable and usable in most situations. For more on that, check out my extended video on that if this is a feature you plan to use.
Alright, let's talk video because somehow Sony managed to blow away my expectations without sacrificing the performance for photographers. We now have 4k video using Sony's new XAVC-S codec at up to 100Mbps using a full pixel readout for both full frame and with a Super 35mm crop! Combine that with other video features such as manual audio control, headphone output, focus peaking, zebras, s-log2, and so much more. High frame rate recording would probably be the only feature that doesn't push the envelope and we are stuck with the standard (but still amazing) 60fps at 1080p and 120fps at 720. In a new twist Sony has built in image stabilization into the body allowing full 5 axis stabilization with your fast prime lenses! While this feature works for photographers as well, I find this even more useful with video and it allowed me to shoot handheld with the 55mm f1.8 lens. As a result of this feature, I found myself shooting with primes more often than before. Video quality itself is simply amazing. Rolling shutter is still there but it doesn't seem as bad to me and watching the results on my 4k tv was simply breathtaking. With the dual record functionality, the a7R II will record your high quality XAVC file along with a lower quality MP4 file allowing you to easily view your video on computers that may not handle 4k or for a fast web upload. Again, while not quite an a7s in low light, I had no issues pushing the a7R II to 6400ISO with very little quality loss. S-log2 recording is back in a much more manageable way with a base recording of ISO 800 while the a7s was limited to 6400 ISO and up. I could now use s-log2 in bright daylight with my standard variable ND filter.
Not everything is perfect though. Battery life suffers quite a bit and I consumed about twice as many batteries as I typically do with my Canon. The battery grip was a life saver for me making the camera more comfortable, extending the battery life to something I could live with, and it drains the outside battery first making it easy to do quick single battery changes and use the 2nd battery as a backup. Lens selection has definitely improved however we still don't really have options for native f2.8 zoom lenses forcing us to adapters. My guess is that the glass would simply be large for the camera but that brings up a negative with the smaller design.
Overall the a7R II was simply my favorite camera to use as no matter the situation, it seemed to offer the best quality around. Whether I needed low light abilities, high resolution files, or even video, the A7RII was among the best in each category. Tracking AF is still slower what is offered from high quality DSLRs unfortunately and the smaller size means no native f2.8 zooms and shorter battery life, but it is clear that Sony is leading the mirrorless market in virtually every way. And even with these shortcomings, the camera is a joy to use, fully customizable, and offers the quality and features you expect to find in a professional level camera. Simply put, if I had one camera to put in my bag, it would be the A7RII for those reasons.