Test SONY a7II – the impossible made possible

 Versiunea in limba romana este aici.

I was reading not long ago, when Sony a7II was announced, a comment on a site and I figured I was thinking the same about Sony since a while ago:

Per 6 month an “imposibble thing” always coming…

At the end of the last year, I concluded in my personal top, that 2013 was a Sony Year. Because we are close to finishing this year too, I may say the same, and I think you’ll agree with me. If you take just two of the 2014 launches, the arrow is pointed towards Sony: Sony a6000the beautiful dream and of course, the beast that bites from the dark – Sony a7S.

Adding on top of that, this last launch, you see where I’m going?! … 🙂

What is SONY a7II?

Succesor of the model that left the world open mouth when was launched a year ago (and I’m talking about the a7 model), Sony a7II is not just an iteration that bears the mark II logo. From my point of view is a completely new camera. Considering that Sony announced they’ll still produce the a7, I support more this idea.

This new model’s difference are visible both inside and outside, looking at its design and ergonomics. And because it is the first thing you’ll notice when you take out the camera from it’s shiny new box, let’s talk a bit about the exterior.

Test SONY a7II

The feeling you have when you first pick it up, even more if you worked before with another a7 model, is that of maturity, if I may say so. It just feels excellent in your hands, the grip is fantastic, the materials being upgraded, similar to the ones used on the a7R, from plastic to magnesium alloy.

The first thing you’ll notice is the bigger grip, adding more to the ergonomics of using this camera.

Compare a7 Sony a7II

photo source iLoveHatePhoto.com

Even if the entire concept of mirrorless cameras is based on less weight, smaller size, the fact that a7II is 125 grams heavier than it’s older brother, it doesn’t bother me, but make me happier. It now feels sturdier in you hands, more ballanced, reaching the perfect shape, size and weight.

Like others, I loved so much the new shutter button, moved to the bigger grip in a more comfortable position. On the top plate, the free space was occupied by a new Custom C button, the new Sony a7II having now a total of 4 cutomisable buttons on its body.

Test SONY a7II

On the back, it didn’t change too much, but the changes made are in the right direction. The bezel where C2 and Menu buttons were present has a new slope, and it doesn’t feel anymore like you are going to cut your finger on it when reaching for those buttons.

Also, the SD card door is smaller, looking like Sony is making room for a second slot on the next model. I would dare to make a bet and say that the next FF model (maybe the so rumoured A9) will cary two of SD slots, or why not, XQD ones.

What I found annoying, is the shutter button. Not its position, which is a plus, but the way you press on it, the feeling you have in doing so. It could be that I had a pre-release version of the camera, or because it was new, but it seems so difficult to be pressed. While you press on it, you also add shake to the camera. We will see other people’s opinions after the camera will be available to the masses. (check the price and availability here).

Test SONY a7II

SONY a7II – the interior

I’m sure many of you wanted me to get to this point. Maybe some of you jumped directly here! So, I won’t keep you waiting and I’ll start speaking about the greatest innovation of this model.

The 5 axis IBIS (In Body Image Stabilisation)

Sony a7II 5_axis

photo source dpreview.com

The greatest buzz around Sony a7II was related to the new and innovative SteadyShot inside camera, a thing many considered impossible, now made possible by the Sony’s engineers. Not the first camera to employ 5 axis IBIS (we’ve seen it before on Olympus or Panasonic micro 4/3 cameras), it is in fact the first Full-Frame camera that manage to give to its users in-body stabilisation on 5 axis.

It was considered impossible because the size of the sensor. It’s one thing to move around a micro 4/3 sensor like in the Oly OM-D, and another to carry around a monster like the 35mm full-frame sensor of the Sony a7II. But they did it, and many people’s dreams are now fulfilled 🙂

You go to sleep today with your baby Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 and the Helios 85mm f/1.5 and when you wake up in the morning, suddenly, they are another beasts, stabilised by the new camera. For the short time I had with the a7II (less than 48h) I managed to get with me the Industar 50mm f/3.5 and a Pentacon 200mm f/4.0.


What adds more to the genius of this 5 axis IBIS, is coupling the camera with a Sony E mount OSS lens and both get to work together, in tandem, to give you the mother of image stabilisation. When testing the camera, I noticed a better performance using the kit lens (the 28-70mm OSS) at 50mm while comparing it with the Industar 50mm.

This is how things works as per Sony informations:

Sony a7II 5 axis stabilisation

photo source dpreview.com

On the Internet there were people saying that some lenses, even Sony ones, won’t get 5 axis stabilisation. They will get instead only 3. I’ve asked Sony representatives about this, but still waiting for an official answer.

As you may have expected, I did my own tests related to image stabilisation. Now, watching the final clip, I’ll admit I went over the board in shaking the camera, and you might get some dizziness while watching the clip below 🙂

I have to mention, because Sony mentions this too, is that you have to enter your own focal length while using the manual lenses, or ones coupled with adapters to the camera, because the lens, in this case, doesn’t communicate with the body.

To be more handy, I reserved two slots for this on the FN button: one to set SteadyShot to either ON or OFF and another to access the list of focals for the non-Sony lenses.

In the rare situation the focal of the lens you are using is not on the list, then you should choose something close to it. But I may ask, what should we do when using zooms? I’m too picky, I know.

Really handy while filming, the IBIS comes even handier while photographing handheld. I’ve managed 1/60th of a second with the 200mm lens, the same you saw in the clip above not too well stabilised while filming.


Pentacon 200 mm | F4 | 1/60s | ISO 160


crop 100% from above

Letting aside the lack of sharpness of the vintage lens, or its chromatic aberrations (it’s ideal to use these lenses for video production, not for photo, as you may see in the clip below for beautiful cinematic effects), you can see there is no camera shake at 1/60th of a second, which is just wow.

As a side note, this is the clip I did with a hefty collection of vintage lenses

Back to stabilisation, as a general rule Sony a7II does a great job in choosing the right exposure every time when you are in Aperture Priority mode and have Auto ISO activated. The exposure time is set based on the inverse of the in-use focal length (not anymore the so annoying 1/60th of a second), considering you are within the limits of the Auto ISO (minimum or maximum).

Example: if you shoot, let’s say the SONY 70-200 F4 set on 200mm, the exposure time set by the camera is 1/200th of a second and from there it builds by altering the ISO.  If the upper limit of ISO is reached in order to obtain good exposure, then the extposure time will be lowered to 1/100s, 1/50s etc. Same happens when there is too much light, and the lower limit of Auto ISO is reached, the camera sets the exposure time to 1/400s, 1/800s etc.


Sony FE 70-200mm f/4.0 G OSS | 174 mm | 1/100s | ISO 6400

At the last moment before I had to return the camera, I thought I should do a test for the same frame with and without stabilisation, handheld. And I did it, using the 50mm Industar at 1/25s with SteadyShot ON and OFF


Industar 50 mm f/3.5 | F6.3 | 50 mm | 1/25s


To conclude on the stabilisation subject, I must say that 5 axis IBIS in Sony a7II works best on wide to medium focal lengths, but looses its effectiveness while you go towards tele zone (over 135-180 mm and beyond). At those focals, any simple movement translates to long jumps over the image sensor, and it’s movement to compensate for it it’s limited to millimetres. That’s why, for tele lenses, the best system is the Optical Stabilisation.

Focus System and low light performance

Another novelty of the Sony a7II is the improved AF system. Sony mentions 30% faster AF and 1,5x faster subject tracking on moving objects. We have in hands the same 117 phase detect points and 25 contrast detect ones, but the algorithm is greatly improved and now permits focusing under 0 EV with the phase detect points (they work from -1 EV to 20EV, compared to the a7 which deflected to contrast detect below 0 EV)

I didn’t have time to do specific focus tests (not that it’s a habit I have to do synthetic tests), but from using the camera in mostly dark scenes and at night, with both AF lenses I did have with me (the kit and the 70-200 FE), I tell you that this new model behaves excellently at focusing, much better than it’s older brother, especially in low light. From all the images below, none is shot under ISO 2000 and the focus was spot-on!

Speaking of low light, I must tell you that I’m really excited with the quality of the images produced at high ISO values. I can work with the images produced by the a7II up to ISO 12.800. You can’t compare it with “the beast” (the a7s – you can read its review here), but for a 24 mpx full-frame camera, the results are charming!

Goodies on video too

We also get some improvements, all of them borrowed from the a7s, a movie specialist. First of all SONY a7II comes with the XAVC S codec which gives acces to 50 mbps bitrate at 1080/60p.

Second we now have access to the Picture Profiles of the Sony a7s, where serious videographers will surely enjoy the S-Log2 mode, Time Code or Dual Video Recording (only for 30p).

This is what S-Log2 means

Conclusions SONY a7II

On short, this is a new camera, as I mentioned from the beginning.

What’s more surprising is the fact that Sony kept the same price point for the new a7II, as it launched one year ago the a7 model. So we get for free the IBIS, better handling, magnesium alloy body, improved focusing and tracking, better ISO performance.

So we have a new member to the alpha 7 series, the 4th, so let’s welcome it!

And now the question comes …

What model from the SONY Alpha 7 series best suits me?

I’ve answered in this article. Enjoy!

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 20.15.38

Author: Alin Popescu

Inginer ca formare, grafician ca meserie, fotograf ca mod de viata, Alin este pasionat de tot ce inseamna tehnologie si scrie articole detaliate pe intelesul tuturor.

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