Sony A7R II 4K Mirrorless Camera Review – Full Frame 42.4 MP 4k Movie Camera
OVERVIEWWith the Sony Alpha a7R II, we get another one of Sony’s superb full frame mirrorless cameras in all their photo and video-capable glory, except with this particular shooter, what you get your hands on is the very top of the Sony 4K mirrorless lineup. That’s right, the A7R II is pretty much the best of the bunch in the Sony compact mirrorless market and easily gives just about any other mirrorless shooter from any major brand a run for its money as well. Furthermore, with the A7R II, you get performance that leaves the few existing 4K DSLRs we’ve seen on the market to-date in the dust as far as photo and video quality go.
With the A7R II, the quality of Sony’s already superb and high quality A7-series mirrorless cameras is taken to the next level with some very impressive specs and features which include a massive 35mm BSI CMOS photo sensor, powerful on-chip phase detection, five-axis body image stabilization and some impressive 4K and HD video capture capacity. Best of all, all of these features and many others are contained in one very nicely compact body that’s rugged and superb for field shooting.
If what you’re looking for is a full-frame mirrorless camera that’s practically unbeatable for now and also offers extraordinary image resolution, high quality low light shooting and some very rich video recording capacity, the A7R II is just about perfect for your needs, even if it is one costly piece of technology.
THE GOODWhere to start? Sony’s A7R II most superb features are its amazingly powerful image shooting capacity, thanks to a giant 42.40 megapixel Full-frame 35mm CMOS sensor, some remarkably great ISO performance for night shooting with very low noise levels, a lightning fast autofocus, lots of customization options, the excellent five-axis stabilization and one wonderfully compact mirrorless body.
Let’s begin with the image sensor on the A7R II. At 42.4 megapixels, this back-illuminated Exmor 4 full-frame CMOS arrangement is downright stunning in the quality of images it can capture. With the 35mm CMOS sensor, the camera is not only capable of some extraordinarily high resolution still shots and video footage, it also manages to offer these with the kind of speed and performance you often don’t even see in cameras with sensor that are half as large or less. The full-frame sensor also offer some remarkably good ISO sensitivity, which is boosted by the sheer number of megapixels and even more importantly, by the fact that this is the first Back- Illuminated full-frame CMOS on the mirrorless market. This means that the A7R II can manage an ISO that goes as high as 102,400.
This sensor is also packed together with a very impressive AF system that offers 399 embedded phase-detection AF points. This is nearly four times as many as one of Sony’s next best compact mirrorless A7-series models, the A7S II . These AF points can furthermore be exploited quite broadly for continuous AF via both E-mount and A-mount lenses if a simple adapter is included. Additionally, the built-in 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization technology in the A7R II, which is identical to that of other Sony shooters like the A7S II, offers some fine counteraction for image and video blurring.
Then there’s the 4K video capacity in the A7R II. Unlike many other Sony mirrorless shooters, the A7R II records its 4K footage internally at an encoding rate of 100Mbps. The 4K footage capture is also available in two different formats, with the first being full-frame video and the second being cropped Super 35, both of which are encoded at the same above-mentioned bitrate and at either 30fps or 24fps. Additionally, the A7R II manages Full HD video at 60 frames per second and 720p footage at a speedy 120fps. These video resolutions can also be composed during shooting with the tilting 3 inch LCD screen or a XGA OLED viewfinder that comes with an impressive 0.78x zoom, making it into the largest EVF on the mirrorless market today.
Then there’s the body of the A7R II. It’s excellent and rugged, with a magnesium alloy design that is weather sealed and comes with one robust, durable lens mount that’s ideal for large lenses in the field. Furthermore, the camera’s shutter is designed for minimized vibration, being able to reduce said vibrations by as much as 50%.
And, as for processing of the A7R II’s massive images and video in all resolutions, the camera is equipped with Sony’s well-known BIONZ X Image processing engine, which as we’d already said, manages to handle the 42.4 megapixel still shots with the kind of speed and efficiency you’d expect from a camera with much smaller maximum photo resolution. The Image Processor and Exmor R CMOS sensor also allow for the A7R II to handle its 4K UHD video shooting needs quickly, internally and with wide dynamic range. And remember, this is full-frame XAVC-S video we’re talking about, meaning that it can be shot without pixel binning.
Going a bit further into the things we like about the A7R II’s 4K video shooting, the camera also allows for some fairly extensive customizable color and gamma controls for wide dynamic range in footage. A user can thus adjust black levels, color levels and a number of other video quality specs. The same S-Log2 Gamma Curve found in some of Sony’s top-shelf cinematic cameras is also found in the A7R II, letting it manage a hefty 1300% more dynamic range in its 4K or HD video signals. This is quite a bit more than REC-709 color space coverage allows for.
Finally, the A7R II is a solid piece of technology in all the essentials of modern mirrorless camera design, with full connectivity for wireless control and data transmission via both NFC and WiFi, letting you move non-4K video and photos directly online to social media sites or email inboxes, or perhaps to a cloud storage server. The camera can also be linked to mobile devices like smartphones through its NFC capacity. We should also note that the design of the A7R II is definitely a winner, with a firm grip, easy handling and the tough magnesium alloy body we already mentioned above. Like all Sony mirrorless models, it’s also one compact piece of technology without its lenses attached. This makes the A7R II all the more impressive given its capabilities.
THE BADThere are also of course a couple of things we don’t particularly like about the Sony A7R II mirrorless. However, none of these come even close to being deal breakers as far as quality is concerned.
First of all, the camera is lacking in a few key features you’d think would be givens in a model with its price, especially considering that one of them is even available in far more economical Sony alpha models like the HD-only A6000. Thus, the A7R II lacks a built-in flash and this, while hardly being a major shooting obstacle, is just annoying. Furthermore, despite its massive photo resolution and 4K video recording capacity, this camera offers only a single card slot, somewhat limiting its storage capacity during on-the-fly recording. We should also note that the A7R II has no touch screen capacity, which slows things down when you want to move through settings and adjust them as needed while actually recording video or grabbing photos. Using the button controls to navigate the menu items and adjustments is definitely clumsier.
Next up, there is the simple fact that the A7R II is one very expensive piece of hardware. Yes, it delivers some spectacular specs but its price tag of well over $3000 dollars will turn off many potential buyers who will simply decide to go for something a bit more economical despite tradeoffs in specs.
Finally, start-up and shooting of photos is slightly on the slow side in the A7R II. This is nothing too serious but we’ve seen better performance in other mirrorless and DSLR models. This is also topped off by a somewhat slow buffer clearing capacity.
FINAL THOUGHTSThe A7R II from Sony was ranked by many to be the best 4K mirrorless camera of 2015 and at least for now, this ranking could easily be said to apply for 2016 as well. If not the best of its kind, it’s at least damn close. In any case, aside from some reservations about its distinctly steep price tag (especially for a Sony A7-series shooter), we love the A7R II and recommend it to both professional and prosumer photographers and videographers of all kinds.
• Camera Format: Full-frame mirrorless
• Max Photo resolution: 42.4 megapixels (7952 x 5304 pixels)
• Sensor Type/size: CMOS, 36 x 24 mm
• File formats:
Photo: JPEG, RAW
Audio: AAC LC, AC3, Linear PCM (Stereo)
Movies: AVCHD Ver. 2.0, MP4, XAVC S
• Supported memory cards:
Memory Stick PRO Duo (High Speed)
Memory Stick PRO HG-Duo
• Image Stabilization: Sensor-Shift, 5-Way
• Video Resolution: 3840 x 2160: 30 fps, 24 fps, 25 fps
1920 x 1080: 60 fps, 30 fps, 24 fps, 50 fps, 25 fps
1280 x 720: 120 fps, 100 fps
• All video Formats and resolutions:
3840 x 2160p / 29.97 fps (100 Mbps)
3840 x 2160p / 29.97 fps (60 Mbps)
3840 x 2160p / 23.98 fps (100 Mbps)
3840 x 2160p / 23.98 fps (60 Mbps)
3840 x 2160p / 25 fps (100 Mbps)
3840 x 2160p / 25 fps (60 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 59.94 fps (50 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 29.97 fps (50 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 23.98 fps (50 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 50 fps (50 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 25 fps (50 Mbps)
1280 x 720p / 120 fps (50 Mbps)
1280 x 720p / 100 fps (50 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 59.94 fps (28 Mbps)
1920 x 1080i / 59.94 fps (24 Mbps)
1920 x 1080i / 59.94 fps (17 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 23.98 fps (24 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 23.98 fps (17 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 50 fps (28 Mbps)
1920 x 1080i / 50 fps (24 Mbps)
1920 x 1080i / 50 fps (17 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 25 fps (24 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 25 fps (17 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 59.94 fps (28 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 29.97 fps (16 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 25 fps (28 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 25 fps (16 Mbps)
1280 x 720p / 29.97 fps (6 Mbps)
1280 x 720p / 25 fps (6 Mbps)
• Max video length in 4K: about 29 minutes
• Focus Type: Auto and Manual focus
• Autofocus points: 399 phase detection and 25 contrast detection points
• Viewfinder: electronic 0.5” OLED with 0.78x zoom
• ISO: 100-25600 (Extended Mode: 50-102400)
• Shutter: Speed: 1/8000 – 30 seconds, electronic and manual
• Flash: none, attachable via hot shoe
• Connectivity: WiFi, NFC, also includes 1/8″ Headphone, 1/8″ Microphone, AV / USB Multi, HDMI D (Micro)
• Weight with battery and memory card: 22.05 oz
The Sony A7R II doesn’t come with much in the way of accessories despite its high price. In fact, unlike a number of other Sony mirrorless cameras, this model doesn’t even come with an included lens when you buy the base package. Instead, what you get in the box with the camera consists of base essentials like a power cord, rechargeable NP-FW50 X 2 battery, cable protector, AC Adapter, AC-UD10, a battery charger, shoulder strap, body caps, accessory show cap, Eyepiece cup and one micro USB cable.
There is no included lens of any kind and no included flash either since the camera lacks a built-in flash mechanism. Because of this, you’ll have to separately buy both as you need them (and you’ll need a lens immediately). As for those lenses, the A7R II is of course compatible with pretty much all Sony E-mount lenses and –with an adapter– a wide range of the company’s A-mount lenses as well, giving users a potential pool of more than 13 full-frame lenses to choose from for this camera. Beyond Sony’s lenses, the A7R II can also be configured to fit a range of Canon lenses if a simple adapter is used and is compatible with third party E-mounts from brands like Sigma, Tamron and so forth.
Finally due to the lack of a built-in flash, users who want to get the most out of this outstanding 4K mirrorless camera will also have to buy a Sony HVL-F20M External Flash system that can be connected to the camera through a hot shoe. We’d also recommend the purchase of a large capacity SDXC U3 memory card, required for 100Mbps XAVC S video format
HIGHLIGHTSThe main highlights of the Sony A7R II involve its 4K video recording capacity, its superb full-frame sensor, the impressive 5-axis image stabilization system and the shooter’s massive ISO range. The A7R II also comes with a whole range of other features and superb specs but these above characteristics are the real winners of this outstanding 4K UHD mirrorless camera. Let’s look at each a bit more.
4K Video recording: The Sony A7R II not only captures 4K video internally at a smoothly fast bitrate, it’s also capable of doing it in a full pixel read-out mode that doesn’t require pixel binning or reduction. This is done in a Super 35mm format that gives even sharper quality to recorded content than what you’d get with other more compressed types of 4K in most cameras of this size.
Back-illuminated full-frame CMOS sensor : The 35mm full-frame CMOS image sensor on the Sony A7R II is the first of its kind in the world with a back-illuminated structure. This means the already mentioned massive 42.4 megapixel image resolution but it also, more importantly, means some greatly expanded sensitivity to low light conditions, allowing for low noise even at massive ISO levels. Sony has also added in an optical low-pass filter for balancing sharpness with low lighting for maximum detail across a frame.
5.axis image stabilization: The Sony A7R II’s image stabilization technology really does come in handy at crucial times and works wonderfully at reducing blur even to the massive high resolution photos of this shooter. In situations where the image stabilization is enabled, shutter speeds can be reduced by as 50% or more and create photo results that definitely look sharper under low light shooting conditions and other situations that don’t lend themselves well to stable photography.
Fast Hybrid AF: The Hybrid autofocus of the Sony A7R II is also a definite bonus of this particular shooter. It goes well beyond the bounds of any normal AF system in speed and responsiveness and the Sony A7R II’s capacity for 399 focal plane phase detection AF points is impressive. 25-point contrast-detection enhances the AF of the Sony A7R II even more.
OVERALL PERFORMANCENow however, after all the descriptions of its specs and capacities are done with, how well does the Sony A7R II actually perform? Quite simply, it does a fantastic job almost across the board. This is sort of to be expected in a mirrorless of this caliber and of course Sony didn’t disappoint. We’ve seen some great ISO performance in other Sony cameras but the Sony A7R II takes things to a higher degree of quality, with superb still shooting in low light conditions even at high ISO ratings.
What’s even more important than the truly spectacular low-light shooting chops of the Sony A7R II is the camera’s ability with photos caught under more normally lit and daylight shooting conditions. Since this isn’t just a low-light camera, it absolutely excels in daylight too, with superb dynamic range, extraordinary color vibrancy and pretty much no notable color saturation weakness. The giant image sensor ensure that a massive enough quantity of detail is captured for image cropping to use certain particularly well compose areas of a much larger photo. At least a couple of lenses would go particularly well when getting started with photo and video recording in the Sony A7R II. Some useful suggestions would be one of Sony’s own 90mm f/2.8 macro lenses, a FE 55mm f1.8, or possibly third party lenses like a Sigma ART 50mm f1.4 mounted to an adapter. The bottom line for lenses however is that there are many available for the A7R II and you can even use a number of A-mount and Canon models with the right adapter in place. It’s going to depend a lot on your specific shooting needs.
The A7R II also handles exceptionally well in terms of ruggedness, physical build and its general control/grip layout. For starters, the camera does a very decent job of managing humid conditions and dusty environments, and although it’s not as well sealed up like A7 cousins like the a7S II, it still seems to work fine and without problems even when exposed to a fair bit of moisture and grit in the field, as well as being bumped or even dropped in one incident. Furthermore Sony has modified the A7R II to be much sturdier in the quality of its lens mount. With a new metal construction, it can handle much heavier lenses like some of the A-mount series without worries about damage or tilting. The predecessor A7R camera of the A7R II was a weak performer in this regard, offering a wiggly mount that actually needed to be replaced with a third-party metal mounting bracket.
Furthermore, the overall button layout on the A7R II is highly usable for the most part and the extended hand grip definitely feels much sturdier in the hands. Again here we have a major improvement from that of the A7R, whose hand grip was blunted and easily slipped from the hands. In basic terms, the A7R II feels like a real and serious camera when handled and this is great for on-the-fly shooting under fast-paced conditions. Sony has also moved their shutter release button to the top of the hand grip, thus increasing the level of shooting comfort and ease, while also placing a second custom button on top of the camera, one which can be programmed for just about any function you might need from those available in this shooter.
On the other hand, we do have a minor complaint with how difficult Sony makes it to change focus points while shooting. Some custom modification might be necessary here for the sake of an optimal experience that could have been made so much simpler if Sony had simply allowed this crucial little feature to be adjusted with one of the multi-function dials that the camera has along its back.
Finally, we need to briefly mention the EVF (electronic viewfinder) in the A7R II. It offers the same high resolution OLED display as other Sony viewfinders but in this case, what you also get the benefit of is a massive 0.78x internal viewfinder magnification. This is better than anything we’ve yet seen in any of the best DSLRs on today’s market and is matched only by the same 0.78x magnification in Sony’s other compact mirrorless, the A7S II.
IMAGE QUALITY AND RESOLUTIONAs we have explained many times throughout this review, the Sony A7R II simply excels at creating superb high resolution still photos and does a fantastic job of delivering 4K ultra HD video with excellent levels of binning-free detail. We almost can’t emphasize the quality of both video and photo shooting enough in this camera.
As far as video goes, the switch over from AVCHD to 4K XAVC-S high bitrate recording was a true winner and any footage you capture in this format will look downright spectacular on a large 4K TV screen, especially one with high color quality and contrast , for maximum appreciation of what the A7R II can pull off. Furthermore, the future-proofing options of the A7R II’s 4K video recording are superb even if you don’t actually watch the video itself in UHD resolution. In other words, since Full HD video is generally much more practical to manage, you can actually shoot high quality footage in 4K resolution at 100Mbps and then downscale it to some truly stunning HD resolution that’s at its maximum sharpness.
For photos, the still image samples we’ve included in this review pretty much speak for themselves. This is a camera that takes shooting to exceptional levels in both low light and daylight conditions, with rich color saturation, vibrancy and great light capture. Furthermore it’s low light capacity and quality at high ISO levels stands out particularly well.
At 6,400 ISO, the camera still created completely excellent shots and even much larger ISO ratings of above 8,000, 12,800 or above 25,000 delivered either excellent or very good photo quality with low noise and great sharpness. These are seriously stunning results for a camera of this size and the truly enormous sensor size only augments photo quality even further at both high and low ISO. The 5-axis image stabilization also reduces blur in these sorts of low light conditions fantastically, even with shots that involve movement, though particularly fast-moving subjects in a poorly lit space can start to blur even with the image stabilization activated.
The A7R II’s autofocus is also seriously noteworthy, offering up more phase-detect AF points than any other camera we’ve seen and spreading them across a broad area of the image space. With this, the A7R II can track shots and focus points over a much broader area whether you’re composing your shot through the viewfinder or the tilting LCD lens at the back of the A7R II. Managing so many AF points is also made easier by the availability of several focus settings, including Wide, Zone, Center, Flexible Spot and Expand Flexible Spot. All of these settings work in both phase AF and Contrast AF with its much narrower range of AF points.
PRICINGThe Sony A7R Mark II 4K Full-frame compact mirrorless camera is not at all cheap by mirrorless camera standards and the base model without lenses included will cost you $3,198.00, with only the basic camera accessories such as battery charger, body cap and basic cables included. One of Sony’s 55mm F1.8 Sonnar T* FE ZA Full Frame Prime Lens, which would make a decent base lens, will also cost an additional $898.00 if bought new from a site like Amazon.com.
• 42.4 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor!
• Backlighting on sensor for superb lowlight shooting
• 4K UHD video without pixel binning
• Impressive color and dynamic range
• Excellent HD video recording
• Compatible with A-Mount, E-Mount and Canon lenses
• ISO 102,400
• Excellent five-axis image stabilization
• No touch screen capacity
• Selecting focus points is clumsy
• Very expensive
• No lens included