Sony Alpha 7R II Review

In February 2016 I traded in my Sony Alpha 7R for the new and improved successor model, the Sony Alpha 7R II. So far I had not posted a comprehensive review but rather sprinkled several remarks among the gallery posts I had used it for. Today I’ll aggregate these remarks with some additional information. First, here are my A7R II galleries at the time of this writing:

Note that some pictures had to be downscaled to A7R resolution due to WordPress media upload failures, as described here. But now on to the camera itself. I’ll only highlight those features and differences to the A7R that I found remarkable – see the thorough DPReview article for a comprehensive review.

Uncompressed RAW

When you select RAW image recording, especially on high-end cameras like the Alpha 7 series, you expect just that: a raw unadultered recording of every single pixel. But Sony was being Sony again, and shipped the original A7R as well as the initial A7R II release with non-optional lossy Raw compression. At least the Alpha 7 II series was quickly patched, resulting in visible improvements on high-contrast edges.

To get this feature make sure your firmware is up-to-date, and then enable it using Menu: Camera: RAW File Type: Uncompressed. If you still have an original A7R you’re out of luck, as it seems uncompressed RAW was not backported to that series. Then again, depending on your concrete subjects you might never notice the difference anyway.

Quiet Shutter

Shutter vibrations were a major problem with the A7R. Shooting handheld at 1/60 seconds was a gamble that resulted in many blurred pictures. The A7R II’s redesigned electronic front curtain shutter has completely solved this issue, so I no longer had to use 1/100 or faster just to get stable images.

Together with a more sensitive image sensor, the net result is a substantial improvement in low-light performance. There’s also a fully electronic “silent shooting” shutter mode but it has a number of drawbacks, and I never found it necessary.

Better Autofocus

Another obvious A7R deficit was slow and unreliable autofocus. While the A7R II has not completely fixed this issue, the additional phase detection system is a definite improvement over the A7R’s contrast-only detection. Phase detection is inactive at f/9 and above, and occasionally I still have trouble getting the correct focus in a complex scene, but for the most part autofocus is much faster and more reliable.

Still Annoying

The A7R II uses the same Sony NP-FW50 batteries as its predecessor, and they can still run empty during a single tour while also taking forever to recharge. Always take some spares along.

The largely unchanged body still abounds with unlabeled or numbered input controls whose actual function you simply have to memorize. The purpose is to make these functions freely assignable, but to be honest I would prefer the dedicated single-purpose controls of simpler cameras.

Finally there’s the massive price hike of $900 over a predecessor for which the A7R II is in some aspects essentially a bugfix. The original A7R stood out by being much cheaper than Canon’s and Nikon’s top models, but that is no longer the case with the A7R II. This is obviously a camera for people with money to spare. On the other hand, it’s indeed excellent with few things left to complain about.

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