#392. Sony A7r vs Sony A7rII. What Evolution?

#392. Sony A7r vs Sony A7rII. What Evolution?

After Bob Hamilton’s first impressions in the glorious landscape of Scotland a few days ago, here are a few more notes on the Sony A7rII’s performance compared to its predecessor.

Sony A7rII (left) & Sony A7r (right)

Sony A7rII (left) & Sony A7r (right) – – Samsung Galaxy S6

Before my A7r moves on to a new owner in a few days, here’s a comparison between the original superstar and its much anticipated offspring. On the menu: ergonomics, build, ease of use and image quality. Plus a more subjective discussion on aesthetics.

 

A7rII vs A7r: Image quality

Conclusion first: although image quality is significantly improved, the resolution increase doesn’t play much of a role in that. 42,2Mpx is a lot of data but, compared to 36Mpx, it represents a mere 8% linear improvement and the excellent per-pixel sharpness of the predecessor doesn’t seem to have changed for better or for worse. A7rII files can take significantly more sharpening, but that doesn’t make them immensely better resolution-wise.

Side by side resolution

Here is a sample test photograph made with a Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM at f/4 with the Sony A7rII (left) and Sony A7r (right). Both cameras on auto white balance and no exp compensation. As you can see, both are conservatively exposed to preserve highlights but vignetting is significantly reduced in the A7rII.ย  It’s possible my A7r’s AWB was not functioning properly, let’s ignore the yellow shift for now.

A7compare-exposureBelow: after full auto correction by LightRoom (auto white balance and auto exposure). Vignetting is still a lot more obvious on the A7r photograph.

A7compare-exposure-2Center crop at 100%. You’re a better observer than me if you can spot any significant differences here. Small details may be a tad more discernible on the left, but none of this would be visible even in a 20″ print, not even with a loupe. Note the light variations in the background and roof, though. Volumes are more palpable in the background. Contrast is slightly lower on the newer camera.ย  A7compare-resolutionIn the bottom left zone, we have a similar story, with the welcome bonus of an image quality that is not mushy even in the out of focus and / or blurry areas. Colours and tones are more differentiated, the photo seems brighter and more lively. Resolution is also slightly better and holds sharpening better, too.A7compare-resolution-2What happens when you push the limits ? Not much. Here is a center crop at 100% using a Zeiss OTUS 85 at f/8. Few lenses match this resolution and the sensors are the limiting factor here. Differences ? Nope. (note that the A7rII is on the right, here). But, to my eyes, the background is a tiny bit less grainy and there is a tad more life in the leaves with the A7rII. Subtle nuances though.A7compare-resolution-3So that’s it. If a massive increase in resolution is your motivation, save 50% and buy an A7r. But there’s a lot more going on that does justify the added expense … And it’s visible both in colour and B&W.

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Summer Evening in Provence – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM

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Berenice – Sony A7rII & Zeiss OTUS 85

Dynamic range

It takes more than a couple of photographs to determine the dynamic range of a camera, and more time than I’ve had so far. But I’m working on it and DxO will probably give us their verdict very soon. Still, here are two photos of the same scene made within seconds of one another with the Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2. SOOC (except white balance) and each with its histogram.

A7r:

A7r-histo DSC04960A7rII:

A7r2-histo DSC04958Here, the difference in contrast in the sky is quite striking. The newer camera gives the whole picture much more exposure without blowing the brightest parts of the sky. I don’t think the dynamic range is any higher in the newer model, but it’s possible the roll off is more gentle. I chose a Nikon–mount lens over an M-mount to eliminate the possibility of large vignetting differences between cameras. But I’m not yet sure what is happening and am running tests to be published very soon.

 

Ergonomics

On ergonomics the A7rII takes a *big* leap forward.

The body feels better in hand, it is slightly heavier, feels beefier and more solid. My wife summarizes that as more masculine than the A7r.

The bayonet is a lot tighter.

Button layout is better on the top, and every bit as puzzling as ever in the back. Some small changes have been made to the photo review process but they don’t make much difference. However, reallocating the center button of the wheel to initiate the zoom would make it almost perfect. Nearly there.

Sony A7rII b&w photograph of a motorbike in Paris

Ergonomics

The stabilizer is a boon but requires fidly incursions into the menu system to specify the lens’ focal length whereas a dedicated button would have been appreciated for this repetitive task. Ditto white balance, which seems to have disappeared from the controls and is not relegated to the Fn button (a very minor thing, given how well white balances seems to perform and haw well thought out the Fn menu is).

Also, and this is my only other niggle, the EVF is a tad disappointing at first. It’s brighter in dark situations and its bigger. People always want bigger, I don’t know why. I’m now having to scan the scene as if placed too close to a widescreen TV, rather than seeing everything in one sweep. But people like bigger and people will be happy. No, what’s a little bit disappointing is the colour. It seems to me there is less colour differentiation in contrasty situations than before and that makes composition a bit less intuitive. Also, focusing manual lenses is (initially) a bit more difficult. But it all comes together after a few days.

All in all, the EVF feels like it’s been designed to win over Canikon clients who object to the EVF experience and it should go a long way towards that goal.

The in-camera stabilizer works really well. With alt lenses (M-mount, ZF 2 …) it feels closer to 2.5-3 stops than the official numbers. With my 35 Distagon, 1/13s is always great and I often pull off 1/6s. Brilliant for hand-held waterfalls, for example. And, coupled with a 1-2 stop in ISO management, that is a huge leap forward for real-life use!!

Keeping the best for the end, the camera is reactive (it wakes up in a second or so) and has the most sublime shutter. The button feel is great and the noise is so enthralling you want to erase to full-silent mode from the menu. As annoying as the A7r’s shutter could be on long sessions, this one just begs to be used again and again.

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Sun + Water = Tree – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM (vertical 2-frame stitch) (magenta water is my doing)

So let’s just pause for a second here.

When the A7rII was rumoured, users were divided in two camps: those who wanted better image quality, whatever the cost on usability. And those who didn’t care much for more megapixels but wanted a more professional feel to the camera. Sony didn’t choose. Sony did both. They addressed almost all the criticisms and made the files even more succulent than before.

So: Kudos and thank you Sony. That is a magnificent achievement. Having been one of the vocal critics in the past, I’m really happy to write these words today

 

Colour

Cat picture alert.

It’s not my fault. The A7rII’s arrival coincided with my arrival. 1 whole month in sunny Arizona and I have to re-adapt to work and ordinary everyday life on the day this wonder-camera turns up on my doorstep. Uh … So cats it is ๐Ÿ˜‰

So: “What does the mog say ?” (crazy song alert)

It screams “Super white balance”! That and the taming of the hue.

DSC04889 DSC04887DSC04879DSC04865All those straight of out camera pics are spot on. White balance is perfect, colours are lovely. CCD lovely.

It gets better.

Close to home is a small waterfall that drops into a very deep pool where local authorities have fitted a floodlight. The water downstream appears an otherworldly blue, as in some underwater sea caves.

Blue, gone crazy - Sony A7rII, Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM & LSD.

Blue, gone crazy – Sony A7rII, Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM & LSD.

Believable ? I hope so because, with theย  story, I find the photograph plausible. And yet, this is the original file, SOOC (straight out of camera).

DSC04938 This to say that I’ve never used files that can take so much pushing around without going to pot. This will be one killer 500px (where many over-saturated photographs go to die) camera !

Throw it a curved ball (as in wild reds) and the A7rII laughs it off with perfect separation.

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Reds and greens

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Duller red

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Duller still

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Green’s not bad either

It seems that, through the combination of slightly lower contrast, better white balance and something else (see aesthetics discussion below), colours show better differentiation. Without being more saturated, they feel bolder and more balanced.

So far, I’ve only seen white balance slip slightly in very overcast situations where the resulting shot can err on the cold side a little bit.

 

Black & white

It’s hardly surprising that “purer” colours in the source file would produce better defined tones when submitted to digital colour filters. And they do. DSC05149 DSC04882DSC04869What I’m seeing is not only more clarity, notably in the shadows, but also better, smoother tonality. Even with contrast pushed significantly read way too much, as above ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), photographs remain rich and smooth. This was not always the case with the A7r which could sometimes become grainy and harsh. DSC04893DSC05096 DSC04923

In a recent article about the Leica Monochrom M246, Thorsten Overgaard describes the issues met when dealing with the extremes of the luminance scale on that otherwise brilliant Leica camera. (note: like most of Mr Overgaard’s writings, that is a must read). With that in mind, I made a few photographs in high contrast situations and found the result very satisfying. As mentioned above, I don’t think the dynamic range has been extended compared to the previous camera, but it does feel like the highlight rolloff is more gentle and manageable. See below for a literal rendition of a strong evening side light. The grass was burnt, in camera, but came back well in post processing. This, however, is one of the situations in which I think the EVF could be improved with a more adaptive contrast management.DSC04922-ModifierDSC04926-Pano-Modifier-Modifier

 

Aesthetics

This is the more important aspect and probably where Sony have worked hardest.

In my short time with the camera, it hasn’t felt like the sensor has measurably better performance (except possibly in the mega high ISO that matter not a lot to me) : dynamic range doesn’t seem improved, resolution is essentially the same and gamut is too difficult to measure without specific instruments, so I can’t comment on it.

DSC04983But, if quantity is the same, quality sure seems a lot different. Sony have already explained that RAW is still compressed and hasn’t gained in bit depth. Yet, I would have believed the contrary, such is the sensation of greater purity and fluidity. The A7r was already a great performer, that felt less digital than other cameras. V2 is fantastic and a small but distinct notch better in this (probably unmeasurable but) essential aspect. Photographs, even when pushed hard, don’t get that slightly cartoonish look that happened on occasion with the previous camera and others (see my A7r Monument Valley photograph below).

We’ve heard about copper wiring being used to speed up the data transfer on the sensor. It turns out this probably has more beneficial effects than a simple speed boost. In HiFi, copper has a “low res” highly natural sound. If sounds organic, fluid and analog where other metals can sound shrill & brittle. The A7rII feels exactly like this. More airy, more atmospheric, more natural. As if 12 bits had been upped to 16 …

The camera probably won’t appeal to those in love with the A7s’ more “etched” look. It is smooth and understated and can be pushed hard but some will prefer the A7s or M43 styles.

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Boissy Saint Lรฉger, France. Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM. Aka Crokett & Audrey.

Me, I love it to bits.

Sony have done much more than improve the camera’s technical aspects. They have done what only film manufacturers bothered to do before them. They have crafted a look. A look that probably didn’t happen by accident, given how consistent it feels with lenses of the G range (such as the really lovely G 90 macro). A look that doesn’t superimpose on the scene but seems to add subtlety and delicacy, and lets the individual character of every lens used shine through with greater clarity than before (see contributor photographs, below).

Provence stream under trees photographed with a Sony A7rII and Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZMSo aesthetics are never in your face, even with slightly exaggerated post-processing as above. The soul of Minolta still stirs and has found very competent successors to move into. Sony have left the electronics appliance business stepped right into the creative photo arena. Can’t thank them enough.

In PP, I Find myself using contrast more often than before and far less of the clarity and saturation sliders.

The new look also means that lenses that seemed harsh to me in the past (the otherwise great Sony-Zeiss FE55/1.8, for instance) need to be revisited. As you’ll see in Bob Hamilton’s photographs, further down, that lens really seems to agree with the new sensor and livens up overcast skies like a stripper at a Strauss-Schumann lieder recital.

A young woman buys jewelery at a beach market at night, photographed using a Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZMAll this makes the A7rII excellent at reproducing atmospheres. Coupled with that naughty stabilizer and the saucy shutter, it amounts to a terrific night photography tool.

Red churros stand by the sea, photographed using a Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM Red and blue sea-side restaurant at night, photographed using a Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM Beach restaurant at sunset, photographed using a Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM

Others, proving the point ๐Ÿ˜‰

In order to show what the camera can do for other photographers using other lenses for different subject matter, here are images made by co-author Philippe and guest contributor Bob Hamilton (who signed the A7rII first impressions post).

Philippe shares flower portraits made using the Zeiss OTUS 55/1.4.

Pink dahlia heart, photographed using a Sony A7rII & Zeiss OTUS 55/1.5

(c) Philippe Berend

The monochrome heart of a flower, photographed using a Sony A7rII & Zeiss OTUS 55/1.4

(c) Philippe Berend

Two orange narcisses dance a ballet, photographed using a Sony A7rII & Zeiss OTUS 55/1.5

(c) Philippe Berend

Yellow and purple, propeller-like flower photographed using a Sony A7rII & Zeiss OTUS 55/1.4

(c) Philippe Berend

And from Bob Hamilton come 6 photographs made with the following lenses: Sony-Zeiss FE 55/1.8 (2 photos), Sony-Zeiss Distagon 24/2(2 photos), Sony G70-200 (1 photo) & Sony G90 Macro (last photo).662DSC0865 Strachur662DSC0870 Post Box, Strachur662DSC0765 The Kyles of Bute and a distant Tighnabruich662DSC0759 Waterfall and Beinn an Fhidhleir, Glen Kinglas664DSC1015 First Light on the Wallace Monument from Blackdub, Stirling664DSC1021 Cornfield, Blackdub, Stirling

Conclusion

Sony’s A7r was a flawed masterpiece. Flawed in ways that triggered negative reactions along vastly different angles depending on the photographer. I, for one, was quite vocal about the incomprehenisble ergonomics, loud shutter and telluric wake-up times. Others vented about RAW compression and shutter vibrations (neither of which ever bothered me). Others still screamed about every single aspect simply because they feel good when bickering and really should get a life.

Monument Valley and the Sony A7r

Monument Valley and the Sony A7r

The reality of the A7r, however, is that it has enabled vast numbers of photographers to produce *fantastic* images. And, sure, it got up our nose every now and then but what remains is the unprecedented image-making capabilities of that tiny monster.

Many of us expected (dreaded ?) Sony to serve more of the same. More res, more ISOs, more hair-raising frustration. But Sony managed to pull-off something quite different. While my informal and brief testing can’t let me conclude that anything in the quantity department is any better than before (resolution, dynamic range …) quality is a quantum leap ahead in the A7rII.

Build quality, usability quality and image quality.

Cassis (France) and the Sony A7r

Cassis (France) and the Sony A7r

The noise floor seems lower and images have even more of that lovely medium format look to them. They feel analog, as in the CCD cameras of old. The handling, though quite similar, is much improved where it needed to be. And, thank goodness, Sony have saved us from a mad megapixel rush which would have done nothing but clog up our disks and CPUs. They have managed to serve up better subjective image quality without falling into a number’s game.

One photo friend, who’s judgement I trust compares the level of performance to that of the amazing Leica S (006). Better in some departments, not quite as good in others. But comparable.

Equally important is the fact that, while my A7r and Philippe’s had wildly different white balance outputs, all the A7rII photographs from the various owners I know personally look very similar in tone and colour. Consistency now seems much higher.

Sony seems to have worked on aesthetics rather than numbers. That’s mature and bold and I hope they reap the rewards of that design strategy.

The Argonaute, in La Villette, Paris. Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 15/2.8 ZF2

The Argonaute, in La Villette, Paris. Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 15/2.8 ZF2

Sony also improved the shooting experience and the confidence in the camera’s quality. Details such as 3-year warranty a really nice to have.

This changes a lot of things.

First of all, forums beware. Rename your categories. Sony can no longer be called alt (alternative gear). They are dominating the image quality scene and, with the help of Zeiss, are releasing a steady stream of really excellent lenses. So good, in fact, that it probably makes more sense to buy native lenses than other lenses, even from very high-end sources.

Secondly, this camera makes me believe in the future. It makes me feel happy about building a system around it, which is not something I’ve felt of any camera in the past 5 years. To me, it really feels like the shift from one technology to another is over (’till next time ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) and that we have arrived at a point which, although it will continue to improve, will not do so in unpredictable directions, making all the rest of the system redundant. This is a camera I want to use for a long time to come. The hunt is over and that feels so great.

Technology meets beauty - Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 15/2.8 ZF2

Technology meets beauty – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 15/2.8 ZF2

Thank you Sony!

 


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47 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Luca August 20, 2015

    Great post, as usual.

    May I ask: how is the shutter button? That is *the* most annoying thing, for me, in my A7r.

    I’ve read that a lot of people have described the A7r (1st version) shutter as “hairy” or “responsive”; well, for me is mushy and it annoyingly lacks an indication of when your’re about to shoot (like the one, IMHO excellent, of the Nex 7 to remain into the Sony camp).

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy August 20, 2015

      Thanks Luca. The shutter button is firmer and more constant in its resistance. There’s nothing in the throw to let you know you are about to shoot, but it’s more predictable.

    • Avatar
      Brian August 24, 2015

      You wrote:

      “Conclusion first: although image quality is significantly improved, the resolution increase doesnโ€™t play much of a role in that.”

      Considering the “significant” increase in image quality the side by side images looked nearly identical in most cases. As you said you’d even with a loupe you be hard pressed to see the differences. I assume the significant improvement in image quality is in other, not posted examples?

      -Brian

      • Avatar
        pascaljappy August 25, 2015

        Hi Brian, I’m refering to better white balance, better colours, better vignetting control, better control of smearing, a more dynamic image, better highlight management, all things that make a photograph more vibrant and likelife but have nothing to do with resolution. Cheers.

  2. Avatar
    Bob Hamilton August 20, 2015

    Good article, Pascal.
    The camera is indeed many times better than its predecessor and, despite the inane, adverse comments of some internet “gurus”, will suit most real world users admirably.
    I have many years and many camera systems real world experience from large format film, done the hard way, to high end, medium format digital and, believe me, this camera, 99% of the time, covers all of the bases and will be more than enough for most users, if not all.
    Who, a few years ago, would have dreamed of being able to use a camera capable of delivering high quality A2+ and larger prints taken at ridiculously low shutter speeds such as 1/15th of a second?
    Let’s give credit where it’s due. Sony has revolutionised real world photography whatever the anal 200% er’s think..!!
    All Sony need do now is offer users the option of a real 14 bit, genuinely lossless RAW format.

    Bob

    • Avatar
      Yeahhh August 31, 2015

      And then I print A4+ shots from my iPhone, frame them and everybody is like “Oh, that’s a great shot. Is it from your Sony?” (I have a big DSLR Sony) And I’m just like “Sssshht … it’s not. But it’s nice indeed.”

      I’m just saying, forget about the camera. Just have fun. Even I can’t really tell the difference between my Hasselblad and my 35mm. Who cares? Maybe I do. That’s it. No one else.

      • Avatar
        pascaljappy September 01, 2015

        Quite right, it’s the fun of shooting that counts. And the A7rII brings a lot of that and makes itself much more forgettable than its predecessor ๐Ÿ˜‰ A Blad huh … nice ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Avatar
    pascaljappy August 21, 2015

    Thanks Bob, your photos help ๐Ÿ˜‰

    And yes, given what we’ve already seen in IQ improvement, I’m curious to see what better RAW would to to enhance that even more.

  4. Avatar
    Simon Roberts August 21, 2015

    Yet another enjoyable post. A couple of ergonomic points: as you may have found out by now, it’s easy enough to allocate the focal length for third party lenses for IBIS purposes to any of the external buttons (I chose c1) and to make the central button on the dial the focus magnify button (I’ve done that with all 3 a7 bodies I own). I’ve not performed any extreme IBIS tests, but I’m extremely impressed by the sharpness I can get from the remarkable Rokinon/Samyang 135mm at 1/60; on my a7r I would never let it go below 1/320.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy August 22, 2015

      Hi Simon, thanks a lot. Yes, the custom buttons do work well and they allow everyone to use the camera for their purpose. Not everyone will be interested by a dedicated button for IBIS settings (native lens users, for instance). I still think magnify button and something for white balance shouldn’t have to be custom set. They’re important to every possible user.

      Rmarkable Rokinon/Samyang 135, you say. Hmmm I had to sell my 135 to acquire another lens. This could be an interesting alternative. Have you used yours for a long time ?

      Thanks,
      Pascal

      • Avatar
        Simon Roberts August 23, 2015

        I’ve only owned mine for a month or so, but so far Dustin Abbott’s review seems right to me:
        http://dustinabbott.net/2015/03/samyang-135mm-f2-ed-umc-review/
        In short, exceptional sharpness/acuity wide open (thanks in part, but only in part, to a remarkably low level of chromatic aberrations), great colours and bokeh (all subjective, I know), and an unusually short mfd – all for what seems, given all this, a bargain price. Mine doesn’t have the focus ring issue Dustin describes on his and of course his main concern, focusing on a dslr, simply isn’t an issue on one of the Sony a7 line or any similar body – my focus-accuracy success rate with this lens on my a7rII is higher than with my Canon 135L on a Canon dslr (and since the Samyang/Rokinon is superior in every other way I won’t be keeping that 135L).

        • Avatar
          pascaljappy August 25, 2015

          Thanks for the link Simon. I’ll definitely take a look as my longest lens is now 5 and feels a tad short.

  5. Avatar
    Vincent TARROUX August 26, 2015

    Great review Pascal.

    It seems the Samyang has a yellowish cast but maybe this is not much trouble.
    I’m still balancing between ZM 35 1.4 and Nokton 35 because of colour accuracy but I don’t want to lost the OOF rendering.

    Vincent

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy August 26, 2015

      Thanks Vincent. Can’t help with your balancing act ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’d love to use the Nokton 35 but never have and can’t compare it with the ZM 35/1.4. There’s a review of the latter here that might help you get an feel of its rendering. What a great choice to have to make, though, right?

      • Avatar
        Vincent Tarroux August 26, 2015

        I read your review and all those I found on the net. I have really appreciated yours and also the one of this czech Blogger, Victor…
        If you come in alsace I would be glad to lend the Nokton to you.
        Let s go back to A7 R Il, I expect it to be free of sensor reflections exhibited by A7 (even with Kolari mod) ?

        • Avatar
          pascaljappy August 26, 2015

          Vincent, I honestly don’t known about the reflections, but I did experience severe reflexions with the A7r (see here) and have not noticed them yet on the A7rII. Doesn’t mean anything but it bodes well.

          Can you send me the address of the Czech blog ? Sounds interesting. And than you for the offer, I’ll write to you if ever I’m in Alsace ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Avatar
    Jacques Russomanno August 29, 2015

    I think for myself as a A7r and very soon A7r2 user, what comes over as I look at these images are the potential uses of the A7r2, The Canon looks as it will be a filter led camera, the Sony will let the user decide which direction they want to take to achieve the results and thus giving more freedom to your photography. A7rii files.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy August 29, 2015

      Yes, exactly. Good wait of putting it. A7rII files are very maleable and let you decide of your processing with more lattitude than other cameras do.

  7. Avatar
    Grant September 01, 2015

    Are those histograms the true raw histograms? That is what we would want to see. But they look like processed histograms to me.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 01, 2015

      Grant, those are the histograms provided by LightRoom 6 when I open the files.

  8. Avatar
    Andrew Carlow September 04, 2015

    About two years from the first A7r to the new A7RII and we have a camera that is BRILLIANT in almost every aspect. Sure, there will be those who still prefer a DSLR, Optical VF and the DSLR way of shooting but for many, and yes there are many, this Sony represents the wave of the future for hobbyists, enthusiasts and pros alike.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 04, 2015

      My thoughts exactly, Andrew. There are still arenas where Sony can’t compete (sports, probably, wideband astronomy) but the A7rII seems to me like the best allround package on offer today, by a safe margin. Today, I would say that the OVF vs EVF debate is no longer an aesthetic choice. Sure, you can look into an EVF and hate the image, but when you consider it as a tool that shows you what the sensos is seeing, plus many useful aids, it’s simply head and shoulders above the best OVF out there, for my use. Plus, since most OVFs are actually small and dark, there’s simply no possible comparison with what an A7rII gives you. Finally, Sony never stop pushing the boundaries of sensor development. I can’t see them not being the future, though I hope many challengers keep Sony on their toes. Cheers.

  9. Avatar
    Robert von Sternberg September 05, 2015

    My photographic adventures officially originated in 1962 as an international magazine staff photographer, and I have experienced many of the legendary cameras of the analog era utilizing 4×5, 6×9, 6×7, 6×6, 645 to 35mm formats in order to create images.

    In 2004 I visited a Hollywood retail photographic supply store to view some platinum prints that were on display there, and during a conversation regarding digitally enlarging film negatives to a more usable contact printing format, for non-silver gelatin printing, the person who had created the platinum images handed me a 5″ x 7″ business card that contained the standard contact information and a rather visually compelling printed image.

    Somewhat stunned by the image quality on the card, I inquired as to why anyone would print their business cards using the platinum/palladium process. When the laughter subsided I got my first real close up look at the world of fine art digital possibilities.

    Fond goodbyes soon followed as I sold and/or traded away all my long cherished film machinery, and wet darkroom devices, retaining only L glass of varying focal lengths to use with my new 6.3mp 10D dslr. Ahhhhhhhg–then began the daunting learning curve of PS all that totally unfamiliar digital terminology comprehension required to deal with the computer and a digital printing workflow.

    As to the reasons that motivated this dialogue: I tired of carting my 5D3, a backup 7D, and lenses with me, especially whenever airports and airplane travel was involved, and decided to add mirrorless equipment to the equation. I want my photographic tools to be capable of delivering image quality that is of “museum quality” while not being such a perceived physical burden, and thus I parted ways with the 5D3 in favor of an a7 and an a7s— both of which I recently traded in for an a7II.

    I am sincerely curious as to your view of the capabilities of my chosen camera body, as I am quite unsure of my particular need of the powerful attributes of the a7rII for my image making exploits. I definitely do see grand image potential in the new Sony, as your praise and online examples indicate, but before committing my hard drives to 42mp generated files I want to hear serious thoughts from those using the a7 series rather than from those behind the sales counter.

    The a7II seems able to deliver amazing results, and even my a6000 has yielded image print quality that often seems to be indistinguishable from prints made with my 5D3 files– and light years ahead of my first full frame 5DI. FWIW, 95 museums of fine art have my work included in their permanent collections, and this fact should should tell me that the “GAS” factor may be at work in my mind relative to any perceived need to upgrade from an excellent machine to the a7rII.

    • Avatar
      philberphoto September 05, 2015

      Robert, it is a joy for us at DearSusan to hear that what we write makes sense to people like you, and to engage in meaningful dialogue. My answer to you is this. I tried the A7R Vs the A7 when they were both released. Had I seen no difference in IQ, I would have had every reason to buy the A7: less money, smaller files, EFCS. But I saw/see the difference. Now the difference between A7II and A7RII is, in a way, greater because the A7RII has greater resolution, but also a different generation sensor. What I can say is that the theory saying that you can’t see any difference in IQ whether on screen or printed, unless you print/view on a very large scale does not describe my results. Already when I bought a Canon 40D, my first 10Mp camera, I was told that more resolution wouldn’t mean anything uness I printed larger than A2. Fact is, for example, when someone posts on a thread where there are only A7 pitures, shots from an A7S, 12Mp, even on Internet resolution I can see it without being told with more than 80% accuracy. Pascal was skeptical, and, once I told him where to look and what to look for, saw it readily, and now, he too can’t miss it.
      So, back to your question. Two answers. (a), there is a resolution advantage, and while limited to minor refinement, rather than major feature, it is there. (b) A7RII seems to be a bit different from the prior generation. Lower micro-contrast is how I’d call it. Meaning, it can make your manual focus more difficult. It also gives lovely mid-tones, including wonderful B&W. Delicate colours, subtle detail, a slightly milder rendering, calling for a slightly more energetic post-processing on my part. Overall, the result is closer to medium format than anything I’ve ever seen from a 35mm sensor. The comparison at Luminous Landscape wetween a Pentax 645Z, a Leica S and a A7RII confirms that opinion.

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      pascaljappy September 07, 2015

      Totally unrelated to your questions … if you ever want to share these MF film photographs, we’d love to publish them. The A7rII is a wonderful machine, but MF film had a distinct lushness that would make us continue use the medium were we not so lazy.

      42mpix files: these do not seem physically larger than those from the A7r. One of the benefits of the much criticized Sony RAW, which I feel is perfectly balanced ! Count around 40MB per photograph.

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    Per K September 05, 2015

    This review pretty much reflects my own (short) experience of the A7R2. There is something with the image quality beyond what you expect based on specifications. It probably has to do with the core processing code (not RAW). For years Nikon had the upper hand on Sony to produce a little better IQ than Sony using the same sensor. Now Sony has developed its own, unique way – the Sony look. Combine that with Zeiss lens look……..
    Handling and operation is also much improved over A7R. A7R2 is a real photographers camera!

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      pascaljappy September 07, 2015

      Exactly Per, the combination of Sony + Zeiss is really special. It’s like the two were designed to work with one another. Lovely.

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    Robert von Sternberg September 05, 2015

    Ooooops, I re-read my posting and saw two examples derelict proof reading: there should be one should in the last sentence, not two in a row, and I left out “along with” between “PS….. all that totally…” in the 4th paragraph.

    As to my a7II vs a7rII opinion request, I would appreciate any thoughts that might be helpful to me regarding the useful functionality differences bettween the 2 camera bodies. The camera supply store that I faithfully obtain equipment from has yet to be able to provide the counter with a display sample that I can insert a card in and shoot samples with. They are still filling their preorders.

    Thanks for any user insight and opinions on the 2 bodies.

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      philberphoto September 06, 2015

      Robert, I only very briefly tried out a A7II, so I am not knowledgeable enough about it to list the funtionality differences between it and a A7RII. Sorry.

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      pascaljappy September 07, 2015

      Robert, only those who don’t write don’t make typos ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’ve never had a A7II in hand so can’t really help you with that. But I think the differences would be minimal in terms of ergonomics, the shutter being a possible exception. As for rendering, I’d say that depends on your lenses. My ‘gut’ feeling is that the A7rII lets the lenses speak more than its predecessors and that it has very smooth midtones. That might be an area where you would notice a small difference with the A7II. But both are really very good cameras. My only gripe with the A7rII is the EVF. The previous one (A7r) had more contrast and magnification, making focusing a little bit easier.

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    Tim Ball September 07, 2015

    After reading this, I am firstly glad that I chose the A7 instead of the A7r, and secondly, I now want to try an A7rII!
    No other report on the A7rII has made me feel this way! I’m so happy with my A7, except perhaps it’s poor AWB and overly “weak” base and mount. Also, I had thought that for only web sharing, there would be no noticeable difference with the extra MPs, but it seems I may be wrong there? (I’d love to read more on this aspect….or would I ;o))
    If prices fall like they have with the A7/A7r, I may be able to afford one when the third generation comes out.

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      Tim Ball September 07, 2015

      This is what I was referring to above,that I’d like more information about, in philber’s reply to Robert:
      ” Fact is, for example, when someone posts on a thread where there are only A7 pitures, shots from an A7S, 12Mp, even on Internet resolution I can see it without being told with more than 80% accuracy. Pascal was skeptical, and, once I told him where to look and what to look for, saw it readily, and now, he too canโ€™t miss it.”

      The times I’ve occasionally seen a difference, were with shots from a D810, when I felt I could reach into the frame and pick a flower!

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        pascaljappy September 07, 2015

        Tim, I think what Philipe is referring to is not resolution but the ‘look’ of the image. It’s a subtle difference, less than what lenses can add or subtract, but it is visible. If you look at A7s photographs, particularly those made with a lens like the FE 55, you see a bite and delineation around the edges that’s not at all the same on cameras with more resolution. The latter don’t feel as sharp on firt inspection. They are a bit more silky. The effect is even stronger with a medium format 80mpix digital back. The sensation of detail is great but without that edge bite that lower res cameras seem to show. It’s really a matter of taste.

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      pascaljappy September 07, 2015

      My A7r may have been atypical. Philippe’s A7r didn’t exhibit the same AWB vagueries as mine. I honestly don’t seem much difference in resolution between the A7r and the A7rII. But the latter feels a little less contrasty and much more neutral. It lets the character of individual lenses show more.

      As much as we early buyers hate that, prices a likely to fall quite sharply in a few months ๐Ÿ˜‰ The A7rII feels solid and dependable, so it probably won’t loose its value out of shabbiness. But Sony being Sony there’ll be something even better on the horizon pretty soon, I guess.

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    WillieG51 September 22, 2015

    Thanks for a great “comparison” review. I have been mulling the A7R and the A7RII, and had found the entire comparison a bit muddled in what I had seen.

    Having said that, I feel your review has told me exactly what I needed to hear, especially when you said..”although image quality is significantly improved, the resolution increase doesnโ€™t play much of a role in that”. There are so many things involved in making a great photograph. These days we seem to focus (no pun intended) on the “numbers” when it comes to digital photography. While you have included those, you provided images, pleasing to the eye, and more.

    One of the best reviews I’ve read, my thanks for helping me decide which direction to go.. While I want a camera capable of providing a great image. I want the experience to be fun as well..

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      pascaljappy September 22, 2015

      Thanks a lot Willie. If the tactile experience matters to you, I do think the A7rII will satisfy you much more than the older brother. Image quality increments are a distinct plus, particularly if you own legacy glass. You’ll definitely have a lot of fun with that camera.

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    Charlie Webster November 05, 2015

    Very interesting article for me Pascal, and takes me beyond the mindless pixel celebration associated with the A7r2. I began with A7r, and got one of the first retail copies in the States in 2013, with very high hopes. But as I tested the body with 30 or lenses I became disenchanted with it’s film lens treatment in general and appalled by the M and LTM performance 35 and wider. I switched to the A7 and things got better in general, but the 1.9 mm coverglass still muted every wide angle I tried, SLR included. I saw in December of 2013 the A7 cameras wanted native lenses, but I was not willing to give up on the feast of options in LTM, M and other mounts. After 10K frames I bought an M9, which my favorite lenses loved, and the A7 began to gather dust except when I needed more than 135mm FL. But suddenly a year later a new option became available: Kolari sensor mod. As you know this reduces the Filter stack from 1.9 to 1.0mm, compared to the D810 at 1.1mm. This has totally resurrected the camera for me and I use it daily with my M9. It now shoots the ZM18 SEM21 28cron and ZM35/2 at near Leica M performance level, though the Sony RAWs are execrable. The build remains toy-like and the EVF seems sponsored by Advil, but it makes very nice images with all my favorite lenses, a tremendous relief. I find your remarks about the WB inconsistency of the original A7r interesting in light of the recent revelations about FE lens variation in sophisticated bench testing at Lensrentals: http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2015/10/sony-e-mount-lens-sharpness-bench-tests These are quite expensive lenses, and I would expect more consistency, would you not? OK, I guess I need a life, right? But slowly I begin to appreciate a camera I have no lust to own, the A7r2, but which is loved by many forum friends like philber. I think the attacks on the Leica SL by some rabid Sony owners have made me a harsh judge. The A7r2 magic is really the sum of many small things, which you point out so well in your post. I was very stubborn about accepting the weaknesses of the original A7r, and now I need to be less so about learning and appreciating the strengths of the “second coming”.

    All the best,
    Charlie

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      pascaljappy November 07, 2015

      Charlie, thanks for the kind and interesting words. I had never seen the LensRental test you link to. I am **amazed** by what the LensRentals team are doing. At the same time, I can’t help feel this is a specialty interest quite unrelated to the acto of photography. Bob Hamilton, who occasionally sends his superb photographs of Norther Europe our way is a very strong supporter of the FE55, Zeiss Loxia and Sony G90. In his 1500px photographs, I see tremendous difference between a photo made with these lenses. None are large enough to show the subtle MTF and variability differences Roger is describing in his post. I’m not implying sharpness is unimportant, but I think colour rendition, harshness/softness play a much bigger role in the final result and our enjoyment of a lens. Bob’s photographs, often made in cloudy or foggy siutations, really benefit from the almost brutal approach of the FE55. In my part of the world, where light itself is more contrasty, I couldn’t use the lens to my satisfaction.

      That said, I do agree with you, consistency is the least you expect of an expensive lens!

      About the A7r2. My copy is a distcint improvement over my copy of the A7r. That’s all I can say. Most of the added pleasure comes from the better ergonomics and 30% is due to an incredible sensor. If you are happy with the M9 (who wouldn’t) you may not find the Sony gestalt to your liking, even in the new version. But if you get along with the A7r (frustrations aside) you should be delighted by the sensor. After some considerable testing I find the uncompressed raw quite unconvincing. It’s not bad, just not better than the compressed version. But that’s just me and my type of photography. Night shooters will probably feel differently. And Bob Hamilton (again) has sent me a set of photographs in uncompressed mode (including a 24″ inch print) in which the subtlety of tones made my jaw drop. He’s a Leica S man that’s now using the A7r2 with Sony and Zeiss lenses exclusively. It’s really a case of knowing what’s important to you and ignoring the rest ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks again. All the best,
      Pascal

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    Mitchell December 08, 2015

    The improved vignetting over the a7r is almost certainly due to the backside illumination. On older sensors, the photosite is more or less at the end of a tunnel of circuitry and light must enter vertically to reach it. This means a lot of light will be lost if it hits the sensor at an angle in the corners, especially with a wide-angle lens.

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      pascaljappy December 08, 2015

      Yes, and it seems to have a minor but distinct positive influence on smearing too. What’s not to love?

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    Sean December 28, 2015

    Hi Pascal,
    I think that you have summed it up quite well when you, with all personal honesty and integrity, stated “… this camera makes me believe in the future. It makes me feel happy about building a system around it…”. That gives me the confidence to take the next step, given that I inadvertantly dropped my A7 onto a cobble stoned area in Italy, after being distracted by ‘oh she who must be obeyed’. I still love her, but my A7’s future is now ‘standing on a lily pad’ …
    Sean

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      pascaljappy December 28, 2015

      Oh, ouch, I am so sorry to hear that. That sends shivers through a photographer’s spine … At least, it gives you the opportunity to hunt around for a replacement, but it must have been a sinking feeling at the time … She who must me obeyed will have to take you for a walk in a nice place for you to try out your new camera when it arrives. New camera, new memories ๐Ÿ™‚ Happy hunting, Pascal

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    Ricky January 01, 2016

    Is your a7r ii still have hot pixel while doing exposure?

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      pascaljappy January 01, 2016

      I haven’t seen any in normal photography, no. The sensor is essentially perfect. But I have spotted some in nightime long-exposures. Hope this helps.

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    Patrick J-P January 16, 2016

    Thanks for this great and honest factual review which I enjoyed reading. Because of my near permanent travelling for my job I cannot buy large and heavy cameras nor a large collection of lenses. This led me the Sony way with the Sony NEX-5, NEX-6, A7r then A7r mk2. I still have my trusted A7r but I may now have to part with it. I got my A7r mk2 in September and since I have been very pleased _ impressed ! _ with the image quality I got from it but even more so with the ease and fun of using it. It’s a more relaxed experience than with the A7r. The A7r mk2’s low light capabilities yielding from both the sensor and its stabilization makes it a much more flexible camera vs the A7r. Aside from a faster buffer, stacked sensor, silver or gold sensor circuitry, better battery technology, I am at a loss to imagine what Sony may do to further improve a camera which I feel already provides exceptional image quality and useability.

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      pascaljappy January 17, 2016

      Thanks Patricks, looks like we have a very similar camera evolution path … And yes, it’s hard to imagine a much better camera. Sony can work on weather sealing and probably give us an extra stop of dynamic range at some point. And maybe clean up some of the ergonomy. But the A7r2 is so close to perfect as it is …

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