img tyls

Sony A7 II: the Next Great Camera, Someday

A step forward, but not a giant leap!

The camera industry is the most interesting and exciting it’s been in the past 10 years. After capable smartphones decimated the point-and-shoot market, camera makers have focused their efforts on appealing to enthusiasts and professional photographers — those that need or want more than a smartphone can provide. We’ve gotten really great cameras from the likes of Fujifilm, Panasonic, Olympus, and Sony that prioritize manual controls and image quality, while still being more compact and approachable than the DSLRs that dominated the aughts.

In that vein, Sony recently released the A7 II, a compact mirrorless camera that could replace the big DSLR rigs many professionals still cling to. The A7 II is actually a successor to last year’s A7, which blew minds by being the first interchangeable lens mirrorless camera with a full-frame (read: very large) image sensor. The A7 appeared to be everything a lot of photographers wanted: it promised to provide full-frame image quality (namely, better images in low light and greater control over depth of field) in a package that was much more compact than a DSLR.

The A7 II is designed to right many of the A7’s wrongs. (The original A7, A7R, and A7S are staying in the lineup, albeit with lower prices than before.) The $1,699 A7 II ($1,999 with a 28-70 lens, as tested) has the same 24-megapixel full-frame sensor and relatively compact frame as before. It’s a serious camera for serious photographers, just like last year’s model. But this time Sony has quickened the autofocus system, improved the ergonomics and controls, and added an all-new in-body image stabilization system that works with virtually any lens, modern or vintage.

The new image stabilization system even works with old manual lenses!

Also unchanged from last year’s camera is the A7 II’s image and video quality. The 24-megapixel sensor takes exceptional images in good lighting conditions and at lower ISO settings, and the depth of field control you get with the full-frame chip can’t easily be matched by cameras with smaller sensors. Colors are vibrant and accurate, and the automatic white balance is reliable, if not quite as good as Fujifilm’s. Sony's metering system is fairly conservative too, often underexposing images unless I adjusted it manually. But more disappointingly, there is still a lot of watercolor-like smearing and artifacting in images taken at higher ISOs, even when you dial back the aggressive noise reduction. That isn’t much of a problem if you shoot RAW and process later on a computer, but if you want a quick JPEG image to send to your smartphone using the A7 II’s built-in Wi-Fi, you can’t really avoid it. The A7 II can shoot images at very high ISO settings, but whether you actually want to do that remains another matter.

The A7 II can record 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second and uses the new XAVC S codec for better compression and video quality. But it’s not as good as the A7S, which can shoot up to 4K video and with better quality at any resolution setting. Most people probably won’t have an issue with the A7 II’s video, but if you didn’t like the A7’s, you won’t like it here. Serious videographers looking at the A7 line will want to stick with the A7S.