Sony took the camera world by storm last year with the full-frame a7. While DSLR elephants like Canon and Nikon were busy cranking out incremental updates to their mirrored cameras, Sony decided to trot down the mirrorless road.
The bet paid off handsomely. The a7 and its a7R and a7S siblings have received tons of praise. Sony’s not resting on its laurels, though. The company’s newly announced a7II is slightly more ergonomic and has two key features that make it better: 5-axis in-body image stabilization technology and a faster autofocus system.
We had some time to briefly shoot with the a7II yesterday at Hollywood Stunts and high above New York City in a helicopter, and our initial impression is that it definitely shoots faster. The start-up time is quicker — 40 percent faster bootup according to Sony. The 117-point phase-detection autofocus system is a little faster as well — 30 percent faster according to Sony.
Subject tracking is also supposed to be 1.5 times more accurate, although I didn’t really feel like there was much of a difference in performance here. While shooting trained stuntmen (and stuntwomen) bouncing on trampolines and falling from great heights, the tracking couldn’t really keep up. I still ended with a lot more blurry pics than I intended.
The rest of the a7II’s specs remain virtually the same. It has the same 24.3-megapixel 35mm full-frame sensor, Bionz X image processor, ISO 25600, 1/8000 shutter, 3-inch tilt-out LCD, OLED electronic viewfinder, and built-in Wi-Fi and NFC.
In terms of ergonomics, the a7II (127 x 96 x 60 mm) is ever so slightly larger than the a7 (127 x 94 x 48 mm). That doesn’t take away from how great the camera feels. Sony enlarged the grip, so it’s now easier to securely wrap your fingers around it and the shutter button is better positioned on than before. That said, the a7 II is also heavier than its predecessor: 31.5 oz versus 27.1 oz (these are weights with the 28-70mm kit lenses).
The a7II’s magnesium-alloy body is also now moisture and dust-resistant, and the 3-inch display has more pixels — 1.2 million versus the 921k on the a7.
But the real star is the 5-axis image stabilization built into the body. While some lenses have built in OSS (optical steady shot) into them, most don’t. With the a7II, any lens (with or without adapters) attached to it automatically gets stabilized for roll, pitch and yaw — effectively compensating for all kinds of shake and letting you use lower shutter speeds. (Sony says the 5-axis image stabilization can compensate for about 4.5 stops). In my brief hands-on, I found the 5-axis tech to be really good. Images taken with the a7II are definitely sharper when you look at them in a 100 percent crop.
What about the faster autofocus system? Well, it’s marginally quicker than the a7. Again Sony says the AF is 30 percent faster than before. The 117 phase-detection and 25 contrast detection AF points is good, but my a6000’s 179-point phase detection with 25 contrast detection is faster. (Of course, the a6000 also uses an APS-C image sensor, which is smaller than the a7II’s full frame one.)
The a7II’s onscreen display has also been revamped. It now resembles the user interface you’ll find on the a6000 and RX100 Mark III. If you’ve used either of those cameras, you’ll be right at home when transitioning to the a7II, which is great. It’s subtle things like these that take away the learning curve and make high-performance cameras more friendly to use. Additionally, pairing a smartphone to the a7II is also super fast and easy once you’ve got the PlayMemories app installed on your mobile device.
Sony’s beefed up the video recording capabilities on the a7II, too. It doesn’t do 4K video recording like the a7S, but it does record 1080p Full HD video in the XAVCS codec at 50 Mbps.
There’s no doubt the A7II is an improvement over the a7. The 5-axis in-body image stabilization is killer and the quicker autofocus is welcome, but I want more. I want the same kind of AF speed that I get with my a6000 and I want the size to get lighter and smaller, not bigger and heavier (even if it’s not by much). I’d also like touchscreens (regardless of how “entry-level” they are to be standard already.
When the a7 launched, we posed the question of whether or not the DSLR was dead. We’re still not there yet, but the a7 is yet another step in making DSLRs moot soon.
The a7II is available for pre-order for $1,699 for the body only and $1,999 with a 28-70mm f/3.5-f/5.6 lens. Both cameras will officially go on sale on December 9.