The Sony A7 MkII ILCE-7M2 Review - First Impressions

The Sony A7 MkII ILCE-7M2 is Sony's latest 'Full-Frame' FE mirrorless interchangeable camera. It is somewhat different to what has gone before. In typical Sony style they see no problem in changing things and 'upgrading' their cameras. In this case they have added in-body image stabilisation as a major new feature. There is speculation that this might be shared technology with their new chums Olympus, but I'm in no position to confirm or deny that. However it is certainly an interesting addition to the FE range.

The first thing I noticed when I opened the box though was the look of the camera. Sony have produced the A7 Mark Two in a rather nice matte black finish. And dare I say it for a Sony camera, It actually looks pretty classy. It has weather sealing, which is handy and Sony seem to have taken the loose mount criticism to heart. This one is a much tighter fit for my lenses. In fact, they may have gone a bit too far here, since it is a bit of a struggle to get some lenses on and off. But I guess that improves the sealing and it will loosen up a bit in time anyway.

The other thing is the deeper grip, which is a great improvement. This is a small camera and I've always used my previous A7 FE series with a grip, either L-Plate or Battery, but this is actually very usable without either of those. So two nice improvements straight away.

So what about this 5-axis stabilisation? Well I'm currently in the middle of some very serious testing with my Sony FE lenses, an a-mount lens + adapter and my Nikon lenses manually focused. I'll be putting together a monster post on this soon, but initial results are VERY impressive. I'm able to shoot with significantly slower shutter speeds than I do normally, use lower ISO settings and still get sharp results.

Just to whet your appetite here's a sample. 

This was hand held and as you can see from the image data, 1/8th. sec. at f/5.6 with my Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA lens. I've got the blurred motion in the waterfall while everything else is pin sharp. Normally, I'd use a tripod for shots like this, but in this case it wasn't necessary. You'll note the ISO 50 setting as well. That's the ISO I've been shooting with for the last couple of days and very good it is too. 

Image quality is very similar to that from the original A7. This is, I believe, the same Sony 24MP sensor used in that previous camera and the Nikon D750. It's a very good one, that doesn't have the 'bite' of the non-AA filtered 36MP unit in the A7r, but is none the less a great all round sensor. (Makes me wish even more that Fuji would use one of these) Dynamic range is very good, as is sharpness, even with the AA filter in place, so I have no complaints about the image quality here. The OOC jpgs. are in line with Sony's current excellence in that field and the raw files are nice and detailed. No Adobe Lightroom / Photoshop support as yet but Iridient Developer produced some very crisp files from those raws.

Now I'm often critical of new versions of cameras that seem to be more about generating brand awareness and income rather than offering any substantial improvement. But, even from the couple of day I've spent using the camera, I don't see that here. The improvements to the body are very welcome and the slight redesign has produced a much nicer handling camera. And I do like the new aesthetics as well. My Zeiss badged 55mm f/1.8 looks much classier set off against the new matte finish and I hope that all future FE cameras retain this look and body shape.

The shutter is the same old clunky beast as on the original A7 and it would certainly be nice to see the electronic shutter from the A7s make it across to the other cameras in the range. With that it would be a seriously impressive camera. It is pretty good already, but silent non vibrating picture taking would make it even better and probably make the IS work even better.

All of this IS goodness does however impact on the battery life. For the last two days I've been running the IS continuously and I'm having to change batteries after taking fewer picture. So, while the original A7 had pretty decent power retention, this new model is going to require more juice to be able to use that stabilisation capability. So it's going to be case of taking a couple of extra batteries for a whole days shooting.

It is obviously useful, for when the shooting situation warrants it, to have lenses like my Sony SEL55F18Z Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA and Sony SEL35F28Z Sonnar T* FE 35mm F2.8 ZA lenses stabilised as well as my trusty a-mount Sony SAL85F28 85mm F/2.8 SAM Lens, which took the shot of the crocuses above. And it seems these are the ones that benefit most from the IS. These apparently have the 5-axis stabilisation, whereas my Nikons will probably only get a 3-axis version, if what I've read is correct. And certainly that's what I'm finding. I do seem to need a 1-stop increase in my shutter speeds to get the same sharpness from my Nikons, but even so this is an improvement on nothing at all. And while in the past I may have been skeptical about the benefits of in-body IS, this camera is probably going to be the one that convinces me of it's worth.

Finally, I was thinking when I was walking around earlier today that the one lens that I am considering from Sony's four-lens (re) announcement yesterday, the 28mm f/2, would be a nice addition to what I have already, particularly with the wide-angle adapter. (I'll pass on the fisheye) Because one of the major things that has attracted me towards the FE system is this high quality, high pixel count, 'full-frame' image production in a small, light package. I'm just dismayed that Sony seem to be concentrating on these monster zooms and lenses like the ridiculous 35mm f/1.4. (Which apparently has soft corners and vignettes wide open see http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/reviews/lenses/sony-zeiss-distagon-t-35mm-f1-4-za-review. So no change there from the usual Sony lens offer then!!) But that 28mm looks nice as it's light and would suit me well. Incidentally I ended my piece on those lenses yesterday with this 'Come on Sigma, you're missing one hell of an opportunity here.' And lo and behold look what turned up on SonyAlphaRumors today - http://www.sonyalpharumors.com/good-news-folks-sigma-says-they-will-make-lenses-for-the-sony-fe-system/. I had no idea I was so influential!!!