Ever since the days of the Nikon D90, cameras designed for shooting stills have the ability to shoot high definition video as well. And matching the way that images are used these days and the expectations on photographers (particularly professionals) video has become an important part of the business of photography, including for me. The fact that my cameras could create movies did in fact lead me into work I wouldn't normally have considered. Industry, events and weddings being covered by me and my partners using both kinds of imagery. And the bulk of the cameras sitting on my shelf, from phones to mirrorless interchangeable, have the capacity to shoot moving footage in addition to their normal modus operandi. It therefore struck me as useful, for both myself and hopefully my audience to make some kind of assessment of how these cameras work for me, what I like and find useful and what I don't. So today I'm starting with the updated Sony FE A7 Mk II.
You might also be interested in all my previous articles concerning this camera > http://www.soundimageplus.com/search?q=Sony%20A7%20II&f_collectionId=541cb9b2e4b0ab6a6f724547
WHAT I LIKE
- Despite the output from the 'full-frame' sensor being somewhat 'neutered' by a pretty strong AA filter, there is no doubt that the A7 II produces excellent image quality. The AA filter may take away ultimate sharpness at low ISO's, but it does contribute to clean, smooth images at all ISO's and at high(er) settings it is actually rather good.
- The layout of the camera and the ability to get things going quickly is another advantage. I guess I'm familiar with the Sony layout now, having at some point owned all of the FE range. (A7, A7 II, A7r, A7s) but I still think it's a pretty well thought out camera. Not the best certainly, but certainly not the worst.
- For most normal operating parameters it's a pretty fast camera. There is virtually no hanging around waiting for things to happen. It's a fast reacting decisive camera, which obviously makes it useful for a number of professional work situations.
- The addition of the in body image stabilisation (IBIS) is a real bonus and a great upgrade from the previous incarnation of this camera. It does make a difference for hand held stills and video work, even with the Nikon lenses via adapter that I use on mine.
- Following on from that, the manual focusing function, involving focus peaking, is also very good as well, It's easy, quick and reliable and means that I have no problems using my Nikon lenses manually focused on the camera exclusively, both for stills and video.
- The EVF / Viewfinder is excellent and one of the best I've used in low light.
- The redesigned handgrip is also a nice feature, though I have to say Sony's delay in getting the new battery grip to the UK is pretty poor really. And see below for the reason why.
WHAT I DON'T LIKE
- As per the last section of my likes, I'm pretty dismayed by the fact that I can't buy a Sony battery grip for the camera because the battery life is terrible. This is Fuji X territory. Maybe 300-400 shots per battery sometimes if I'm using the IBIS, even with lenses that have no AF motor. Pretty shoddy really, considering the 'pro' aspirations of the camera.
- The video formats. While the XAVC S option may well be an advance and prove useful for professional movie making down the line, AVCHD and the 'stretched' 1440x 1080 formats are both something we really shouldn't have to put up with in 2015. AVCHD is a compressed format allowing movies to be shown on an HD TV. Panasonic have dumped it and so should Sony. And there is really no excuse for a 'stretched' format these days. Not good.
- Still no battery charger included with the A7II. This is mean, penny pinching and inexcusable. Made worse of course by the poor battery life.
- Unlike the A7s and it's electronic shutter, the A7 II has a ridiculously loud clunk. Why Sony inflict this on us who knows. It's louder than my Nikon Df DSLR!!
- The lens range. There's is enough written on this already, so I won't go through it again.
So mostly good, but some issues that should really have been sorted out by now. Because, they still leave the A7 II in 'enthusiast photographer' territory. The battery life, lack of charger and the fact that I still can't buy a battery grip are all things that stop the A7II being regarded as a serious professional camera. Now I can work round it, but then I'm not working in a pressured, have to get the shot environment. And if I was I'd leave the A7II at home.
The crazy thing is that all of these 'problems' don't require much fixing. Just the will on Sony's part to show serious intent. And this is unfortunately something that happens too often with Sony. They seem to run ahead with all their technological advances, particularly with their sensors, but seem to ignore some of the basics that should have been addressed before their cameras are even released. Because with the A7 II I have a fine camera that shoots top-class stills and video, with nice handling and a very manageable set of controls and menus, but it is also (too) noisy, runs out of battery power very quickly, has some outdated and amateurish video formats and doesn't have a lens range that gives me anything I find really useful and want to own. All very Sony!!
I guess I've gotten used to all of this with Sony over the years and I seem to hang on to the cameras despite all of this. But other manufacturers have cameras that offer somewhat more. I'm currently using my Leica D-LUX (Typ 109) which shoots amazing 4K and the Sony A7 II doesn't actually compare well to that camera for video . And unfortunately I would have to rate the A7 II as a decent but flawed stills camera with great image quality that can be used for video. However the video example I've published above was shot some time ago and I haven't been inclined to use the A7 II again for moving footage. Because I've got alternatives that give me more commercial looking clips, straight out of the camera.
This is not to say that the A7 II is a poor camera, it isn't, and in many situations it's a great performer, but it could be better and indeed should be better. And for me it's about time Sony delivered on their intentions and the hype from their publicity machine. And it's also about time that their design department caught up with their sensor tech. wizards and gave us a camera that does justice to all that resolving power.