Hands on

November 13, 2016

Sony A7RII review

After owning a Sony Alpha 7R2 for more than one year now, I decided to share my experiences with this mirrorless camera. A lot of blog posts you find are written by techno enthusiasts, so my personal opinion might add something as I am definitely not the type of person who you can win over with more megapixels or other tech specs.

Recently when shooting a commercial production, the model approached me saying 'I always thought professional photographers have big cameras'. This made me smile big time but I have to admit, I did not know how much power this tiny Sony Alpha camera has, before I started working with it. I was completely new to mirrorless gear and photographed with Canon equipment since the year 1999.

In the meantime I have shot a few sets for large magazines (e.g. Playboy Germany) with the Sony A7R2, so I believe I can truely judge the value of the camera from a professional perspective. I don't photograph landscapes and I prefer to use autofocus when I work. Requirements are always to deliver a lot of output in a short period of time. And I am often working with unexperienced girls that have never posed (naked) in front of a camera.

I always thought professional photographers have big cameras.

Contra

  • The camera is tiny which means you need small hands to operate it. Luckily my hands are quite small, so I can reach the knobs. Larger cameras are easier to operate sometimes, though.
  • Battery life is limited to around 400 pics (2 - 4 hours of shooting more or less for me). You should consider buying extra batteries and a second charger because charging takes 2 - 3 hours.
  • An electronic viewfinder is good but slower than that of a DSLR which means your shooting speed (or reaction time) will decrease.
  • No playback of images while being written on card. Sony's buffer is much too small and therefore this is really a pain. I hope a future firmware update might lead to a small improvement.
  • I mostly shoot portrait size and have to hold the camera very awkwardly as i don't want to attach a grip (as this would mean I have to screw it on and off what I don't like to do).
  • When playing back an image on the display and the camera is turned in portrait mode, zooming in turns the image back to landscape. This could easily get solved by a firmware update soon, hopefully.
  • Skin tones require slight retouching and are not as stunning as on my Phase One or Canon cameras. I speak about an extremely minimum level, nothing too many people would notice at all.
  • Focus speed is a bit slower than on a DSLR.
  • Batteries unload themselves quite fast. In camera (without using the camera) they eat a lot of battery, even when the camera is turned off. Always make sure to have enough batteries.
  • Mirrorless cameras have no mirror to protect from dust when changing a lens. This means, you need to dust off the sensor regularly. Sometimes multiple times during one shooting session.
  • A DSLR reacts better finding focus in low light situations or when shooting against the sun. The Sony is good, but my Canon was better.
  • I can set the minimum desired speed to a value, e.g. 1/125. I'd like to set it to 1/160, but the firmware only allows 1/250 to be the next faster value. I hope for a firmware update on this one.

Pro

  • The camera is so much better for travelling, leightweight, easy to carry around. The width you carry around constantly is approxamitely half of what I was used to.
  • 42 megapixels, they make a difference. For me this is the perfect size. It leaves enough for cropping and everything larger (like 100 mp) makes file sizes so large that backupping data is a nightmare.
  • Many focus points, officially 399, to me they are a bit less, because against light or in lowlight you can only rely on the ones inside the Phase AF zone. But there are still so many that you can easily create an assymetrical composition and don't have to move around your camera after focussing.
  • Excellent image quality in high ISO modes. I shot a portrait with ISO 6400 which was printed full size in a magazine and looked perfectly fine. I would not go beyond ISO 6400 for skin, but this is already a very high value.
  • Filming is excellent and easy. You can film out of every mode and there's a lot of support by the camera, especially because it happens to have AF when filming, too.
  • I mostly shoot in aperture priority, so I select my desired aperture and a minimum speed of 1/125s, the camera chooses the necessary ISO to make it fit (while my maximum ISO is set to 6400). These possibilities are fantastic.
  • Image stabilization works great and would even allow me to shoot at 1/30s handheld, for example. Especially for filming handheld, image stabilization is brilliant.
  • You can shoot somewhere professionally and people will think you are just a tourist taking a picture. This can come in handy in public places.
  • The range of -5 to +5 in the exposure setting compared to the -3 to +3 on my Canon is a very nice boost. Lovely feature.
  • Really good automatic features (e.g. face recognition in case you want to do group shots, eye detection as a support).
  • There's this setting called DMF (digital manual focus). It allows you to focus manually whenever you want, but with the full support of manual focussing. You can set the camera to zoom in to your selected AF point (!) when touching the focussing wheel on your lens. This is the future of manual focussing.
  • Playing back images in bright sunlight always meant you needed a loupe or some dark towel to be able to view the display screen. I set the trash can icon to allow me to quickly turn the display brighter. But as this sucks more battery life, I really love the feature to review images that you shot by looking through the viewfinder. It looks weird from outside, but it's a perfect way to review images carefully, even in brightest sunlight. And you can zoom in, just like with the big display.
  • You no longer need to sharpen your images as they are already dead sharp when they come out of the camera.
  • I am not a fan of touch screens. So I am happy that this feature is not yet implemented in the Sony alpha 7 series.
  • This probably goes more to the lenses than the camera itself, but you can create stunning images at f/1.8. I never happened to have dared to use such a wide open aperture in commercial photography before (fearing my clients would not like it) but with the Sony, this goes amazingly well.
  • You can use focus peaking (sharp areas are marked with a colour) and zebra stipes (displaying washed out overexposed areas) when shooting. When filming, this comes in handy.
  • There's a build in spirit level which you can turn on or off. No more need to put one in your hotshoe.
  • The camera allows you to shoot by looking on your display (always live view) or looking though the viewfinder. Makes shooting easy, especially when you need to take a photo from an almost impossible angle.
  • Under low light situations you almost feel like having nightvision. The image in the viewfinder is so clear and you see so much, it is amazing.
  • Last but not least I should mention that the advantage of a mirrorless camera is that you have what-you-see-is-what-you-get. You change the aperture and you can see the changes right while you look through your viewfinder. No need to experiment with the aperture settings to get the amount of bluriness in the background you were aming for.

My conclusion

As a result I can say, I absolutely love to work with my Sony. It's a great camera and the price tag feels just right. I am happy that more and more lenses are being built for it and look forward to creating more stunning pictures with this lovely camera.

 

http://www.simonbolz.com/blog/hands-on/2016-11-13.php

Simon Bolz, Frankfurt
Tel.: +49 (69) 95 82 02 12
Mob.: +49 (172) 620 55 18
E-Mail: