Sony alpha A7 II review from the end of 2017

As I am writing this review, the Sony A7 mk II almost approaches  ist 3rd birthday.

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In the meantime Sony managed to release the mk II versions of A7s and A7r, the mighty A9 but also A6300 and A6500, RX1R2, 2 versions of their RX10 and RX100 as well as RX0, but still every information about a possible update to the A7 line turns out to be untrue.

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I really do not mean to say that I always need the new stuff and that you can only have the best or nothing, the Sony A7II hovewer has some quirks that by now (and by comparison with competition) start to be annoying. I also wouldn’t really mind those if the A7II really was a complete camera, but to be honest the camera still feels like a work in progress, like there is something lacking in both the design and functionality.

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So, in the next paragraphs I will mostly focus on bashing the camera, however keep in mind that I am a proud owner of the A7II and am not changing the camera any time soon, simply because there is no other sub €2k camera in the mirrorless world (or any world for that matter) that can rival Sony in image quality and malleability of their raw files

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Micro 4/3 – Olympus OM-D EM-5 mkII + Zuiko 12-40 F2.8
Night photos of Andalusia sea shore
APS-C – Nikon D5500 + Sigma 17-50 F2.8
sunset over a snow covered lake in winter
Full Frame – Sony A7 II + Sony Zeiss 16-35 F4

Autofocus

First let’s address the elephant in the room, which is A7II’s autofocus, and in particular ist AF-C (continuous autofocus) mode. It is there, you can set it up, shoot some photos and even get some keepers if you are using good primes with aperture closed down enough so that the depth of field can be shifted and the photo will still be sharp, but to rely on it to capture one of the time moments when you cannot simply ask your subjects to redo the situation would be madness. It is simply unreliable and in many situations I was left with 0% sharp photos, even in good light. Every entry level DSLR has better C-AF as well as every newer mirrorless camera, but Sony somehow does not seem to care, they are delaying the release of A7 III until they sell enough expensive A9s.

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Here AF-C actually managed to focus on the closest subject, that is the column, leaving the breakdancer blurry (AF-C Focus Zone in the middle)

 

Strange focusing interface taken from cameras with joysticks

Using focusing on the no joystick versions of Sony cameras can be really strange at times and surely will make any new user wonder about what exactly is going on. First of all, depending on how you get to choosing the focus point, you will be presented either with having to choose a set point and then go to menu again in order to change it or a joystick like positioning which you can easily adjust, but it is being operated with the notorious wheel. In both cases pressing the wheel’s sides will change the focusing point but turning it will change the zone and screw up your settings, and it is very easy to do. The second option will additionally block access to sthings like drive modes, ISO and display settings. All of the latter settings can also be easily changed by mistake when trying to get subject into focus as the same buttons are used for both purposes. So in practice you can either adjust burst rate or focusing point but not both.

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Choosing focus can be easily mixed up with other functional buttons

Focus Zones

You can get rid of the many above mentioned problems simply by using Sony’s AF zones, this however presents you with a new problem – The camera’s algorhythm tries to get as much of the zone  area in focus as posiible in, which leads it to go right through your subject and straight to the background. Really, when using focusing zones you can forget about portraits – you need to switcht point focus or be content with blurry people on otherwise tack sharp photos. Why it cannot simply focus on hte nearest point within the zone like other cameras do is simply beyond me. This also goes for street photography – either go with manual focus based on hyperfocal distance or watch photos of super sharp buildings and blurry people. Am I doing something wrong here? I don’t know……

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Photo shot with Focus Zone in the center. As you can see the camera does everything it can to choose wrong focus points. The subject filled out almost the entire ‘zone’ yet Sony A7 II managed to still choose to focus on the background.

Having said all that, I am doing mostly landscapes and still compositions so none of the focusing issues bother me that much:)

lichotaphoto - Kulturforum
The F4 wide angle option – Sony Zeiss 16-35 F4 (SEL1635Z)

Design, or rather built quality

Most of the design problems like lack of joystick or drive mode knob were solved with Sony’s new generation of cameras but again, you have to pay €6k to get them so for all intents and purposes those are not there for mere mortals.

What I would like to focus on more here however is the built quality. I have been using the camera for 2 years now, during which I had the it either in a designated bag or on my neck (no throwing in the backpack or on the back seat). This however didn’t prevent the paint from coming off in the corners. The rubber parts, especially in the back, also leave alot to wish for.

 

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The camera is also very slow to start (by 2017 standards) and is rendered useless while old phtos are being processed (and the buffer fills up quite quiclky). All of those are addressed in Sony’s newer models  but again, if you want a decent camera for 2017 and don’t want to switch systems you need to buy sony A9, which I believe is a conscious Sony strategy and it really shows their approach to their fans.

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Sony’s travel lens SEL24240. It performs well until you need to go into high ISO

That said, given all ist flaws, Sony A7 II remains the best you can get for the money, at least as far as IQ is concerned, you can get stuff that focuses better. The camera is now really affordable, it is of course old by today’s standards and that leads to strange situations like Fujifilm XT-2 or Sony a6500 being more expensive, and in my opinion it is a nobrainer that FF is the way to go unless you really need the autofocus, which is however very important for many people and if you buy a camera especially to shoot moving subjects, this is not the one for you.

photo taken in south western Iceland in late winter
A7 II + SEL28F2

So, you might ask yourself – is Sony A7II the camera for me? The answer is yes but don’t expect to shoot sports or your children with it and have lots high quality keepers.  Fort hat you should wait for the A7III (if you’re patient) or just go with A7rII instead. This

What it does have is a price approaching €1.900 on grey market, decent autofocus (or so I’ve heard) and a goddamn 42mpix sensor which gives you new possibilities. I always was turned off by this untill I realised that with this camera and a 300mm lens you can basically make 600mm photos at 24mpix, which is really amazing and lets yo utake advantage of the supposedly compact size of mirrorless systems.

photo taken in south western Iceland in late winter
SEL55F18Z

If you however think that you can get by without without fast autofocus then by all means buy the camera now. You will be really happy with your choice and paired with a good prime like SEL55F18Z.

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SEL55F18Z
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