October 16 of 2013 marks an important milestone in the history of photography, because it is the date when Sony announced world’s first full-frame mirrorless cameras, the Sony A7 and A7R. The Sony A7, being the cheaper model aimed for general use, sports a 24 MP sensor and offers hybrid autofocus, while the A7R with its high resolution 36 MP sensor is targeted at more specific types of photography including landscape, architecture, studio and product photography.
Since the official release of these cameras, I had a chance to test both in 2014 as soon as they were available. However, I did not write detailed reviews for a number of reasons including native lens shortage and availability, all kinds of initial firmware bugs and lags, shutter vibrations (A7R), slow start up time, compressed RAW, terrible menu system, poor battery life and a number of other annoying issues. On top of that, 2014 was also a year of personal transformation for me, so I was incredibly busy trying to shuffle a lot of things at the same time.
To put it short, my lack of time and my negative experience with these cameras contributed to reviews being put off for a later date. When Sony released the A7S a bit later, I did not see drastic changes aside from the camera sensor, so I put off reviewing that camera for a while as well. However, when Sony announced the second iteration of the A7-series, the A7 II, I immediately requested a review unit for evaluation. By then, Sony already had a few more native lenses to choose from and I had high hopes that Sony perhaps addressed many of the concerns from the original A7 in this new camera.
In addition, the Sony A7 II came with in-body image stabilization (IBIS), which interested me a lot – with so many different adapters available for other lens mounts, the A7 II looked rather promising as a versatile tool that could stabilize pretty much any lens on the market. And that in itself sounded really good, so off I went with my journey to assess the new Sony A7 II.
With its $1,699 MSRP price tag, the full-frame Sony A7 II offers quite a bit as a digital camera and packs a lot of improvements over the original A7: much better ergonomics (thanks to the bigger and more textured grip), built-in 5-axis image stabilization, faster hybrid AF system, faster start-up time and a few other small tweaks here and there. It has the amazing 24 MP Sony sensor, similar to what the Nikon D610 and D750 cameras feature, with superb dynamic range and excellent handling of noise at high ISOs. It might look like a small incremental upgrade over the A7 at first, but when you consider the above changes, especially the inclusion of IBIS, it certainly becomes a very different, more practical and capable camera in comparison.
When Sony initially launched the A7 series, I wrote a detailed article on how the Sony mirrorless would most likely impact Nikon and Canon full-frame DSLR prices and potentially sales. Although it is hard to say exactly how much the company has impacted DSLR sales, I believe that Sony was one of the main reasons why both Nikon and Canon dropped prices on their D610 and 6D cameras by 30% to around the $1500 mark to stay competitive. Sony definitely stirred up the full-frame camera market with the A7 series cameras.
I also believe that Sony did a good job with introducing the idea of using similar camera construction, but with different sensors for different photography needs. I personally would welcome Nikon D810-style bodies with 12 MP, 24 MP and 36 MP sensors instead of feature-stripped cameras at completely different price points. That would alleviate the pain of many photographers, as they would be able to choose a camera based on their megapixel and other shooting needs. Here is a short summary of the three Sony A7-series cameras and the type of photography they are intended for:
- Sony A7S (12.2 MP): Astro / Night photography, Event, Portraiture, Photojournalism and Video
- Sony A7 / A7 II (24.3 MP): Sports / Action, Event, Portraiture and Other general photography
- Sony A7R (36.4 MP): Architecture, Landscape, Studio, Fashion, Product and Macro photography
A detailed comparison of specifications can be found further down on this page.
1) Sony A7 II Specifications
- Sensor: 24.3 MP Sony Exmor™ Full-Frame CMOS image sensor
- Autofocus System: Fast Hybrid AF (phase-detection AF/contrast-detection AF)
- Autofocus Points (35mm full frame): 117 points (phase-detection AF)
- Autofocus Points (APS-C): 99 points (phase-detection AF) / 25 points (contrast-detection AF)
- Continuous Shooting: 5 fps
- Electronic Viewfinder: XGA OLED with 2,359K dots, 100% field coverage
- Viewfinder Magnification: 0.71x
- Movie: Full HD movie shooting 60p/60i/50p/50i/25p/24p
- Picture Effects: 13 modes
- Panorama Mode: Yes
- HDR Capability: Yes
- Battery Life: Up to 270 images (Viewfinder) and 350 images (LCD)
- LCD: Tiltable 3″ LCD with 1,228K dots
- Image Stabilization: SteadyShot INSIDE Image Stabilization with 5-axis compensation
- Shutter: Electronically controlled, vertical-traverse, focal-plane type
- Electronic Front Curtain Shutter: Yes, On/Off
- Wi-Fi Capability: Built-in
- Weight: 556g body-only
- Price (MSRP): $1,699
Detailed technical specifications for the Sony A7 II are available at Sony.net.
2) Sony A7 II vs A7
So what are the key differences between the Sony A7 II and the original A7 and what has changed? As I have already mentioned above, the A7 II now has 5-axis in-body image stabilization (IBIS), which down-grades to 3-axis IBIS when non-native lenses are used. The A7 II has an improved hybrid AF system, which Sony claims to be up to 30% faster. Ergonomics have been greatly improved thanks to a much larger and more comfortable grip and the shutter release along with some buttons have been changed and moved as well (more on ergonomic changes in the next page of the review). The original Sony A7 had a combination of magnesium alloy and polycarbonate in terms of construction, while the new A7 II has a full magnesium alloy construction like the A7S and A7R cameras. Although there is no 4K recording, the A7 II has improved video features thanks to XAVC S codec and flat picture profile (S-Log2) to make it more appealing for those who like shooting high definition video. There are other slight menu changes and tweaks. Other than these changes, everything else, including the 24 MP sensor and the image processor are the same.
3) Sony A7 vs A7 II vs A7R vs A7S
And here is a detailed comparison of specifications from the four cameras:
|Camera Feature||Sony A7S||Sony A7||Sony A7 II||Sony A7R|
|Sensor Size||35.8 x 23.9mm||35.8 x 23.9mm||35.8 x 23.9mm||35.9 x 24.0mm|
|Sensor Resolution||12.2 MP||24.3 MP||24.3 MP||36.3 MP|
|Sensor Pixel Size||8.44µm||5.97µm||5.97µm||4.88µm|
|Sensor Anti-Aliasing Filter||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|In-Body Image Stabilization||No||No||Yes, 5-axis||No|
|Image Size||4,240 x 2,832||6,000 x 4,000||6,000 x 4,000||7,360 x 4,912|
|Viewfinder Type, Dots, Coverage||EVF, 2.4 M dots, 100%||EVF, 2.4 M dots, 100%||EVF, 2.4 M dots, 100%||EVF, 2.4 M dots, 100%|
|Storage Media, Type||1x SD, UHS-1||1x SD, UHS-1||1x SD, UHS-1||1x SD, UHS-1|
|Continuous Shooting Speed||5.0 FPS||5.0 FPS||5.0 FPS||4.0 FPS|
|Native ISO Sensitivity||ISO 100-102,400||ISO 100-6,400||ISO 100-6,400||ISO 100-6,400|
|Boosted ISO Sensitivity||ISO 50, 204,800-409,600||ISO 50, 12,800-25,600||ISO 50, 12,800-25,600||ISO 50, 12,800-25,600|
|Autofocus System||Contrast-detection AF||Fast Hybrid AF||Fast Hybrid AF||Contrast-detection AF|
|Focus Points||25 points (CDAF)||117 points (PDAF), 25 points (CDAF)||35mm: 117 points, APS-C: 99 points (PDAF) / 25 points (CDAF)||25 points (CDAF)|
|Electronic Front Curtain Shutter||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Video Maximum Resolution||1920×1080 (1080p) @ Up to 60p||1920×1080 (1080p) @ Up to 60p||1920×1080 (1080p) @ Up to 60p||1920×1080 (1080p) @ Up to 60p|
|LCD Size and Resolution||3.0″, 921,600 dots||3.0″, 921,600 dots||3.0″, 1,228,800 dots||3.0″, 921,600 dots|
|Construction||Full Magnesium Alloy||Partial Magnesium Alloy||Full Magnesium Alloy||Full Magnesium Alloy|
|Battery Life||360 shots (CIPA)||340 shots (CIPA)||350 shots (CIPA)||340 shots (CIPA)|
|Weight (Body Only)||446g||416g||556g||407g|
|Dimensions||126.9 x 94.4 x 48.2mm||126.9 x 94.4 x 48.2mm||126.9 x 95.7 x 59.7mm||126.9 x 94.4 x 48.2mm|
|Price As Announced (MSRP)||$2,499||$1,699||$1,699||$2,299|
Aside from the key differences in resolution and related ISO range, pixel and image size, the biggest differentiating factors between the cameras are image stabilization (A7 II), autofocus system + focus points, weight, size and price. Everything else is pretty similar or more or less the same. And that’s the idea – these cameras are meant to appeal different needs primarily based on resolution. Some features like autofocus system might appear a bit stripped on the A7S and A7R, but that’s because Sony considers the former to be aimed at shooting video (where focus is usually controlled manually), while the latter is aimed at shooting non-moving subjects (where focusing speed is either irrelevant or not as important).