When you think of a conventional compact system camera, the first idea to pop into your head is likely to be a small, pocketable model with interchangeable lenses. Sony’s A7R II is big for a CSC, but smaller than pro DSLRs. Its 42.2MP full-frame chip will certainly give Canon’s 50.6MP 5DS and Nikon’s 36.3MP D810 a run for their money, especially when you consider it’s 59% lighter and several centimetres leaner than the latter in all dimensions. Add in sensor-shift image stabilisation, 4K video recording and a new Back Illuminated sensor and you have some attractive features taking the CSC into the professional domain.
Features & Build
The dust and moisture resistant magnesium alloy body protects the 42.2MP Exmor R CMOS sensor, and has a reinforced E mount for heavier optics. The new chip has 5.8Mp more than the A7R I, outputting shots at 7952x5304px. It’s a Back Illuminated (BI) sensor so the photo-sensitive surface sits above a layer of wiring rather than below it, and this is said to deliver cleaner images and give a data output 3.5x faster than the prior model. 5-axis sensor-based image stabilisation gives sharper shots and is the icing on the cake.
The Bionz X processor paves the way for an ISO range of 100-25,600 which can be further expanded to 50-102,400, and there’s a shutter speed range of 30-1/8000sec with a Bulb mode to boot. A burst can be fired at 5fps, putting the camera in line with Canon’s 5DS R and Nikon’s D810. These DSLRs do have silent and quiet modes, but this only dampens the ‘mirror slap’ so the shutter is still audible. The A7R II has a Silent Shooting mode which uses an electronic shutter, so it really lives up to its name.
4K video offers four times the detail of Full HD and can be recorded internally, and also allows 8Mp stills to be extracted from the video stream. The Super 35mm mode records a smaller, cropped 15MP area of the sensor for extra reach, but stills can also be pulled from this at 8MP.
The Fast Hybrid AF has 399 AF points across 45% of the frame. The usual Automatic, Single and Continuous AF modes are on board, in addition to Manual and Direct Manual Focus (DMF).
The Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) has 2359.3k dot and replaces the bulky mirror and pentaprism system found in DSLRs. A Multi Interface Shoe sits above it for using flashguns or an accessory microphone, while there’s a Mode dial with MASP modes and integrated pin-lock to the right. There’s also an Exposure Compensation dial with three stops of positive and negative latitude, two custom buttons and twin Command dials to set your exposure values. The shutter button now sits further forward on a more pronounced grip, it has a power switch built around it for quick setup too.
On the back you’ll find the 3in, 1228.8k-dot TFT LCD which can be tilted up by 107° or down by 41° to assist awkward framing.
On the left, you’ll find 3.5mm jack ports for headphones and an external mic, as well as a Micro USB port which can be used to charge the camera. The A7R II comes kitted out for wireless with integrated Wi-Fi and NFC.
The shutter on the original A7R sat awkwardly high up on the top-plate, and the grip was quite shallow. Sony has remedied this with a deeper grip for a better purchase, and the shutter has been placed further forward to fall naturally under your index finger. The shutter is a little ‘spongey’ and doesn’t click firmly, so it’s difficult to know if you’ve fully depressed it. That said, the rest of the build is tank-like. The magnesium alloy body feels like it could really take a thrashing, but at £2599 for the body we’d expect no less.
The button layout is ergonomic and the interface is easy to navigate. There’s also a total of 10 customisable buttons peppered over the body which can be assigned to any of 64 frequently used functions – though some functions can only be assigned to specific buttons.
Sony’s SteadyShot Inside technology moves the sensor on five axes to reduce camera shake when hand-holding. This did a great job and delivered sharp results at slower shutter speeds.
The 3in LCD can be tilted out but it’s quite thin, so it can be tricky to get a nail under it get it out. But we’d rather have it than not as it’s a feature its pro DSLR rivals miss out on. It’s low-key size and the ability to shoot from the hip makes it good for street and reportage imagery.
A motion sensor engages the EVF automatically when brought up to eye-level. The responsive display shows you the exact pic you’ll get, even with exposure compensation dialled in or an arty filter turned on.
Battery life remains an area of concern. You can take 340 shots using the LCD screen, or just 290 with the more power-hungry EVF, so the A7R II runs out of juice much quicker than its rivals. In comparison, Nikon’s D810 runs 3.5x longer from a single charge. Sony’s answer is to ship the A7R II with a spare battery, though the symmetrical battery shape makes it all-too-easy to insert it the wrong way round!
The A7R II has the widest AF coverage of any full-frame camera with 399 phase-detect points covering 45% of the sensor. The Fast Hybrid AF is said to be 40% quicker than the A7R I, and though accurate, it wasn’t the fastest AF we’d seen from a CSC, taking a moment to lock on – even in bright conditions.
Value for money
The A7R II’s closest CSC rivals are the 24.3MP A7 II at £1244 and the 12.2MP A7S II at £2499 from to see the same stable, but its true rivals are pro DSLRs. It sits between Nikon’s £2349 D810 and Canon’s £3199 5DS R in both price and resolution, so although it may seem expensive, it’s not bad value. These DSLRs have an optical viewfinder and larger build, but neither have 4K video, a Back-Illuminated sensor, tilting screen or sensor-based image stabilisation. All told, the A7R II is a tempting proposition if you’re splashing a serious amount of cash on a pro-level camera.
It was hard to mark the A7R II down for Features & Build. The spec list is fully-fledged and outdoes its DSLR rivals in many areas. We’d have liked to see a secondary SD card slot, but huge capacities are available, so the camera did enough to warrant five stars in this criterion.
Performance was good, and we were particularly impressed by the ability to shoot silently and record 4K videos – two genuine reasons to go for the A7R II over a DSLR. But it was let down by a poor battery life, so this was one area it fell short of the mark.
Its image quality matches its rivals in the DSLR camp. The full-frame chip in a portable body is remarkable and deserves five stars. The A7R II seems steep at £2599, but if you’re looking for a smaller full-frame body it is good value.
- Body price: £2599 (As of July 2016)
- Resolution: 42.2Mp (7952x5304px)
- Sensor: Full-frame Exmor R CMOS (35.9x24mm)
- Lens mount: Sony E
- Autofocus system: Fast Hybrid AF
- AF points: 399
- Focusing modes: Automatic AF, Single Shot AF, Continuous AF, Direct Manual Focus, Manual Focus
- Metering: Multi-segment, Centre-weighted or Spot
- Burst rate: 5fps Flash No
- ISO range: 100-25,600 (expandable to 50-102,400)
- Shutter range: 30-1/8000sec & bulb
- Viewfinder: 2359.3k-dot Electronic Viewfinder XGA, 100% coverage
- Monitor: 3in, 1228.8k dot TFT LCD
- Video: 4K 3840x2160 @ 30p
- Write speeds: 1.2sec (RAW), 0.8sec (Large Fine JPEG)
- Storage: SD, SDHC, SDXC, Memory Stick Pro DUO
- Weight: 582g (body only)
- Dimensions (WxHxD) 126.9x95.7x60.3mm
- Visit: www.sony.co.uk
This review was first published in the December 2015 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.