Sony has had ambitious plans for the camera market ever since it bought Konica Minolta’s camera business in 2006. But after some initial excitement, there were only sporadic periods of activity, and the attention of many photographers and market observers waned somewhat.
Sony Alpha A7R II: Price
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Then in September 2013, the company launched the RX1, an impressively small compact camera. A little over a calendar year later the Alpha 7 and 7R were unveiled, and we really started paying attention. They were the world’s 1st compact system cameras to feature a full-frame sensor, and their little size drew an audible gasp at the UK press announcement.
While the Alpha 7 had 24 million pixels and was designed to be a ‘fast’ all-rounder, the Alpha 7R boasted 36 million pixels and was intended to be attractive to landscape and still life photographers looking to capture masses of detail.
Since then we’ve had the 12MP Alpha 7S, which is specifically created for low-light and video shooting, plus an update to the Alpha 7, the Alpha 7 II, which has 24 million pixels.
The latest addition to the range is the Alpha 7R II, the highest-resolution model yet, trumping the A7R’s 36 million pixels with an effective pixel count of 42.4 million. This is coupled with Sony’s Bionz X processor, which enables a native sensitivity range of ISO 100-25,600, with expansion settings taking the range to ISO 50-102,400. It’s also possible to shoot at up to 5fps (frames per second) with functioning continuous autofocus (AF).
To push detail resolution even further, the sensor has no optical low pass filter (OLPF). And to enable the photosites (pixels) to be made bigger than they would otherwise become, the A7R II is the initial camera to include a full-frame back part illuminated (BSI) sensor.
Whereas the original Alpha 7R has a contrast-detection autofocus (AF) system with 25 points, the A7R II includes a hybrid AF system that combines both contrast and phase-detection focusing. This has a total of 399 factors covering 45% of the imaging area.
In another first for a full-frame mirrorless camera, the A7R II has in-body 5-axis image stabilization, which helps reduce image blur in stills and jitters in video footage. Sony has upgraded the 0.5-inch 2,359,296-dot electronic viewfinder to an OLED, and there’s also a new shutter unit that’s designed to create less vibration and which has a 500,000-cycle life.
Sony Alpha A7R II: Video
Although Sony says the A7S may be the best option for shooting video with a compact camera, the A7R II is the 1st full-frame CSC to offer 4K recording in-camera; the A7S requires an external recorder.
There are two options for recording 4K footage with the A7R II; the best quality is produced when the camera is set to Super 35mm, as there’s no line skipping or pixel binning. The downside to using this mode is certainly that the video frame is certainly narrower than when shooting stills. On the other hand, Super 35mm mode can be turned off so that the camera uses the whole imaging area – presumably with pixel binning.
Other video-related improvements over the A7R include the ability to use Picture Profiles and collection-specific values for Black Level, Gamma, and Knee (highlight compression), plus color adjustment (Colour Mode, Colour Level, Colour Phase and Color Depth) and Detail.
The Gamma settings include Sony’s S-Log2 setting, which is claimed to increase the dynamic range to up to 1300% to retain highlight and shadow details, and generate footage that looks very flat straight from the camera but which is perfect for post-capture grading.
Like the other cameras in the Alpha 7 line, the A7R II has a retro SLR-like design. However, Sony has taken on board some of the criticisms made of the initial A7 and A7R and has produced the same handling tweaks to the A7R II as it did to the A7 II.
Sony Alpha A7R II: Performance
One thing that’s clear from both our real-world and lab tests is normally that the Alpha 7R II can resolve a lot of detail – but then that’s the whole point of having a sensor with 42 million pixels. As you’d expect, the highest level of detail is certainly captured at the lowest sensitivity configurations, but interestingly we found it impossible to match the JPEG’s in-camera processing when processing raw file images of our chart using the supplied software – the JPEGs resolve extremely slightly more detail.
In the lab, we found that the A7R II is just about able to reach the maximum score in our resolution tests, but it doesn’t out-resolve the chart, and can’t quite match the 50MP Canon 5DS for detail, although that’s hardly surprising given the difference in pixel count. Similarly, the A7R II is able to capture more detail than the 36MP A7R and Nikon D810.
As sensitivity is increased to mid-range values the JPEGs take on a slightly painterly appearance at 100% on-display. This becomes even more evident at high ideals, with edges appearing a little harsh while the areas in between are a softer wash of color. This makes the JPEGs look over-processed at 100%, although they look okay at normal viewing sizes.
We chose three rival cameras for the Sony A7R II to see how it measured up inside our lab tests: the Canon EOS 5DS, which, combined with the 5DS R, maybe the highest-resolution full-framework camera currently available at 50 million pixels; the Nikon D810, which with 36 million pixels on its full-body sensor can’t quite match the Canon 5DS for detail, but is still an excellent choice for Nikon enthusiasts; and the A7R, Sony’s 36Mp CSC which produces superb images, making it an attractive and more affordable alternative to the A7R II.
We’ve carried out tests on the Sony A7R II across its full ISO range for quality, noise (including signal to noise ratio), and dynamic range. We test the JPEGs shot by the camera, but we also check the performance with raw files. Most enthusiasts and benefits prefer to shoot raw, and the results can often be quite different.
Sony Alpha A7R II: Conclusion
42MP stills and 4K video are carried to a thin, lightweight body by the a7R II. Electronic shutter and in-body image stabilization make it difficult for you to acquire high-quality images and video from equivalent DSLRs if you get it at all. The a7R II class-leading low light efficiency and respectable dynamic range is given by BSI-CMOS. The a7R II also incorporates destructive phase AF detection on the sensor, with the widest coverage of any full-frame camera, accurate eye focus, professional video AF performance, and the potential to target non-native lenses.