Sony A7R II Review: A Superb Low Light Shooter

The Sony a7R II is a formidable camera no doubt. It has one of the best, if not the best in the market low light shooting capabilities thanks to the full frame BSI sensor and the powerful BIONZ X image processor.

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The Sony A7 R II is the successor of the extremely popular and very successful A7 R. It is built around a 42 megapixel full-frame EXMOR R BSI CMOS sensor and Sony’s very capable BIONZ X image processor. It is the first ever full-frame BSI sensor in the world. This is the best when it comes to mirrorless cameras and arguably the perfect synergy between a full-frame sensor and a compact design spec. Let’s dive into the details of the camera and find out more on why this camera is currently considered as one of the best in the business when it comes to full-frame sensor based digital interchangeable lens camera systems.

a7r21Image sensor

The newly designed 42 megapixel sensor of the A7 R II is an engineering marvel. It constitutes a number of features that rightfully makes the A7 R II a true low light photography champion. The back-side illumination (BSI) technology, a first for full-frame sensors, ensure that the light gathering surface of the sensor is much larger than traditional sensors with wiring at the front. Better light gathering essentially means that the sensor is capable of capturing more light and thus produce noise-free images even when you are shooting in extremely low light conditions.

The quick-transmission copper wiring on the system improves image data transmission speed by 3.5 times. The produced JPEGs and uncompressed RAW files are of the size 7952 x 5304 pixels. Image sharpness is further improved because of the absence of an optical low pass filter. Though this also opens up chances of getting moiré and false colors in your composition, for those who love shooting landscapes, product and fashion and love printing big, the A7 R II is definitely a mouthwatering proposition.

Image Processing

The A7 R II’s image processor is the latest BIONZ X. It has a vastly improved architecture compared to the older processing engines and compliments the high-resolution image sensor. There are many advantages to the new image processor. One of the most important advantage being the new diffraction reducing architecture that’s built-in to the system. Small aperture usually comes with the drawback of diffraction – a process where images turn out softer. BIONZ X’s diffraction reducing architecture counters that.

a7r25Auto-focusing

The A7 R II is powered by a newly designed hybrid auto-focusing mechanism. There are a total of 399 on-sensor phase detection points and 25 contrast detection points on the system, thus, significantly improving the overall auto-focusing performance.

Still Shooting

I have already mentioned about the resolution and the size of the image files capable of being produced by the sensor. Continuous shooting speed of the A7 R II is only 5 fps. This is not a camera designed for action or sports photography. There are other options for that if you are into those sort of things. With the large full-frame backside illuminated design what you can shoot, however, are excellent low light imagery. I have always wanted a camera that has very low native noise, even if I am shooting with a really long shutter speed. If you too wish to explore long exposures at night and in general low light photography, the A7 R II is definitely the type of camera that would interest you.

a7r27ISO range

The a7R II’s native ISO range from 100-25600. In the extended mode it expands from 50 to 102400. Modern DSLRs are increasingly being rate based on their ability to capture as less noise as possible. A term that you are likely going to hear quite a lot going forward is ISO Invariance. It is basically about shooting at the lowest ISO possible, keeping the exposure values as planned, and then bumping the exposure to the required level during post-processing. Older cameras tend to perform poorly on that scale because they capture a lot of noise and that shows up when the exposure is pushed later on.

Modern cameras with improved sensors and better ISO performance don’t suffer from the same problem. Thus you can shoot at ISO 100 (or the lowest possible on the camera) then push the exposure in post-processing and yet find no significant difference in result. The a7R II’s performance is good in that regard. However, bear in mind, the lower you shoot on the ISO scale, the more is the likeliness of getting noise when you push the exposure. The threshold for the a7R II is somewhere around ISO 400- ISO 640.

Image stabilization

The A7 R II comes with a similar 5-axis image stabilization system as the Pentax K1 that we reviewed earlier on this website. It makes all compatible Sony lenses image stabilized by default. Another new technology that finds its way into the a7R II is the newly developed reduced-vibration shutter mechanism. This system greatly improves the overall sharpness of the images produced.

Viewfinder & LCD Screen

The 0.5” EVF on the A7 R II has a resolution of 2,359,296 dots and gives 100% frame coverage. The rear area of the camera is dominated by a 3” tilting LCD screen and it has a resolution of 1,228,800 dots.

a7r24Build quality and ergonomics

Good weather sealing is a requirement for outdoor shooters. Underneath the compact exterior lies a tough magnesium alloy chassis. The A7 R II does have excellent weather sealing. But weather sealing and build quality apart certain ergonomical elements of the camera isn’t something that would excite someone with larger hands. The control dials are very close to each other. In a real world scenario you would often struggle to tap / turn the right button / dial without looking. Having said that the A7 R II does have a bunch of buttons and a lot of them are customizable. The new design that mimics the original a7, now has a pronounced rubberized grip.

Video Shooting

The A7 R II is one of the few interchangeable lens cameras which are designed to shoot great quality videos along with excellent stills. It can shoot native 4K (ultra-HD) videos at 30, 25 and 24 fps. The higher resolution recorded gives you a lot of freedom when you are downsizing for HD final cut. Alternatively, you could opt to shoot full HD videos at 60, 30, 25 and 24 fps. Scaling down the resolution at 720p HD you can shoot at an extremely high frame rate of 120 and 100 fps. A bunch of shooting formats are available including AVCHD, web-ready MP4 and XAVC S. The a7R II isn’t as robust as some of the other video-oriented mirrorless systems in the market and also in Sony’s stable. That being said there are a number of features which make the camera a formidable video shooter. Mimicking high end movie cameras, the Sony a7R II has a customizable gamma, black, color and knee levels. You also get the S-Log2 gamma curve. Resultantly, nearly 1300% of additional dynamic range is available on the a7R II.

Other Features

  • Much improved auto ISO feature
  • Reduced noise signature
  • Improved grip
  • Higher resolution
  • Better image sharpness compared to the older A7R
  • Audio input & headphone jack for listening to recording as well as recording sound feed from an external mic.
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity
  • Built-in flash

Conclusion

The Sony a7R II is a formidable camera no doubt. It has one of the best, if not the best in the market low light shooting capabilities thanks to the full frame BSI sensor and the powerful BIONZ X image processor. It has one of the better video modes among interchangeable lens cameras. A body mounted 5-axis image stabilization system that gives increased image stabilization and an effective diffraction reduction system that increases the efficiency of the 42-megapixel sensor in producing cleaner and sharper imagery. Though the sensor is not absolutely ISO invariant, and loses out to something like the D810 in this department, the overall ISO performance is better than a number cameras out in the market. To conclude, if you are planning to buy the a7R II, don’t think. This is a formidable camera in every sense. You will not regret your decision.

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