8.01.2016

An evening spent writing a personal review of the Sony A7ii in a small hotel in Baton Rouge.


While the most flexible and most Swiss Army Knife-like of my cameras is the RX10iii with it's great, long lens and remarkable 4K video, the camera that most matches my personal vision of the perfect personal camera is a different one. You would be forgiven for thinking it has to be the Sony A7Rii but you would be wrong. While the R-2 is a great camera the one I reach for to do my work is almost always its sibling, the A7ii. Plain vanilla personality with the ability to deliver great images.

Let's take a look at this one now, even though it's been on the market for a bit less than two years now. Especially since it's been on the market for nearly two years.

Like the A7Rii the A7ii is a small, mirrorless body that fits well in my medium sized hand. It feels dense and durable but is much smaller and lighter than the Nikon bodies I had been shooting with. In truth, it feels (and probably is) smaller and lighter than the RX10iii.  It's more the size of an M series Leica than a traditional DSLR. The camera has all the good stuff inside. The EVF is the same as the one in the A7Rii and it will make a believer out of most photographers, when it comes to electronic viewfinders. There is little to no perceptible finder lag in my style of shooting and both of the A7 cameras I own have finders that are able to give accurate indications of exposure with a much better correspondence with what I eventually see on my calibrated monitor at the studio. One of the reasons I switched systems was my inability to accurately judge the actual, optimal exposure on the back screen of my Nikon D810 or D750.

Along with the exposure accuracy I have been preaching the benefits of "pre-chimping" via EVFs since 2010. You can assess color shifts, contrast, effects and, of course, exposure as you are shooting, and even when you are just looking through your finder, lining up your shots. It's a time saver and a shot saver and eventually all but a handful of camera models will be "upgraded" to use this viewing system.

The A7ii is staid and boring and reliable. The images coming from the 24 megapixel imager have great color and a high degree of sharpness. There is supposed to be an anti-aliasing filter in the make up of the sensor module but it does little to diminish the overall sharpness of the system. I recently did a series of portraits using electronic flash and my one issue was the need to tame color aliasing in the fine fabrics of several mens' suits. This is an indicator of high sharpness. For nearly every use I have (in taking portraits) the 24 megapixel sensor is more than enough resolution, and that resolution is coupled with ample dynamic range.

I tend to use the A7R2 when there is no limit to the sharpness and resolution I think I'll need. It's the perfect camera for big group shots (lots of detail for every face) and technical images of products that potentially need to be produced at extreme sizes for trade show graphics. But the uncompressed 14 bit raw files are huuuuge. They take up a lot of disk space. They require a lot of computer horsepower to batch process.... And that's exactly where its less endowed sibling, the A7ii, comes in most handy. It's 95% of the image quality of its sibling in a file that's half the size. I'm comfortable using it for any portrait, no matter how big, and for most advertising images as well.

I never intended to use the camera for video work as I'd heard from various review sites that the 1080p (no 4K) files were nothing special. The implication being that the files were less than sharp or less detailed than other available, 1080p, options. One day I grabbed the A7ii body entirely by mistake (the A7x cameras are nearly completely intentional on the exterior) and used it to shoot an interview for a video project. When I realized my error I was very nervous about how the video would cut together with the "higher quality" materials I'd already shot on the RX10iii and the A7Rii. I was anxious until I got back to the studio and ingested the material into Final Cut Pro X. The video looked great. Absolutely great. The quality reinforced what I've believed for years: You can't take my word or anyone else's word for the performance of cameras. You have to test them yourself. You have to shoot them and look at the files. Everyone has a point of view and it's highly probable that their points of view don't align with your preferences. Test the cameras that interest you yourself. You just can't rely on website reviews. Even if you like the way the guys write....

So, what's not to like?

We can bitch about the batteries all day long but they are what they are. You give up one thing (battery life) to get another (body size).

If you want to bitch about EVFs you've wandering into the wrong blog. I think a good EVF is a major plus for a camera.

After having used the Sony A7ii for a good while I've got the menu items I use memorized. I've got my function buttons committed almost to muscle memory and I've got my back button AF squared away. I've heard horror stories about service but I'll just keep buying the used bodies and hope Sony has their QC shortcomings conquered for the long term.

I am pretty certain that Sony will soon come out with a replacement for the a7ii and I can't wait. The used price on the existing models should (given a quick look at Sony history) drop like a rock. At a certain price we can even start thinking of them as disposables....

As far as I can see the A7ii is a boring, reliable, small, easy to handle package. Big performance. Small used price. Fun to use with older, manual focus lenses. So far, I love mine.

Just thought I'd share where I am with cameras at the moment. I started writing this last week in Baton Rouge but just finished up after lunch today. July was the busiest and most prosperous month in my long career. Just amazing. Sometimes the blog fell between the cracks.







6 comments:

Unknown said...

Hi Kirk,

Love your blog and your recent posts. I too have a boring camera that I turn to for most of my pics. I know you are a fan of the Sony's; I am a fan of the Leica's having owned many since 1978! My go to camera is the Leica D Lux 109. While it is not the Leica SL, which I turn to when I need great resolution/detail, it provides beautiful photos with absolutely no fussing. While using it, I also feel like I am still using a camera rather than a computer and for this old cover, that is a treat.

I know that folks will say that the D Lux 109 is just a rebadged Panasonic LX 100 but to them I only say that I owned 2 of those and the focusing was always out of whack. Once I got the Leica, the focusing was alway right.

In any event, it is great to hear another photographer constantly remind folks that you do not need the end all highest resolution camera for most work or personal photography.

Keep up the great work,
Ed

Daniel Walker said...

What would be your travel kit built around the A7ii

Kirk Tuck said...

travel for business would be the 24/70 and the 70/200. Both f4.0 for size, weight and sharpness. For personal work it would be the body and the Contax 50mm f1.7. No other lens need apply.

Dave said...

I can see myself going with this down the road. Much as I love the RX10.2/RX100.4 mobility, there are times I want a big sensor and system. The price makes these a good value for the capability level. I just don't see myself going back to Nikon at this point. I wonder how the A7ii would gel with my old 55mm and 75-150mm Nikon glass?

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Dave, I have used the 55mm Micro on the A7ii and it works exactly as on the Nikon, with the added benefits of real time live view and focus peaking/focus magnifying. Love this camera.

Michael Matthews said...

I probably missed this in earlier posts about the A7II -- but what about shutter noise? The original A7 was reputed to have an extremely loud shutter. Is this still the case? If so, any workaround such as electronic shutter for quiet settings?