As some of you may or may not know I began shooting on Sony cameras as my main system back in the late 2013 to early 2014 timeframe after the original A7 and A7R were released. These were not my first Sony cameras as I own a NEX-5 still and owned a A77mkI in the past which I used to cover my telephoto photography needs when I primarily used Leica cameras. The original Sony FE cameras were capable but had some “rough edges” to overcome but you could tell the direction Sony was going with their camera system.
The A7II added IBIS, some speed, and some refinement to the sensor processing to the original A7. The A7RII added a lot more refinement to the system, added speed, added 4K video without the need for an external recorder, and the now famous Eye-AF which gave it a feeling of an additional generational leap. There was also the small matter of a 42.4 megapixel BSI sensor. In short this was truly a revelation and probably the first really mature Mirrorless camera that got DSLR owners to legitimately take a harder look at mirrorless technology.
When the A7RII was announced, it was done with a significant price increase over its predecessor. While the first generation body retailed for $2300 when new, the second generation version retailed for $3200. Was the extra 6 megapixels worth it? Absolutely. For starters the autofocus system added additional phase detect points… 399 to be exact that cover 70% of the sensor area. In addition to this, the shutter was further dampened, electronic first curtain shutter was added, and additional durability was engineered in the process. It was rated for 500,000 shutter actuations. Eye-AF was added along with additional custom buttons. 4K/30p was added and one could reasonably track faster moving subjects in continuous AF. A heavier focused was placed on higher-end lens design with the announcement of the Sony G-Master lenses and the Zeiss Batis lenses which were focused on being able to resolve 100 megapixel sensors at a minimum. In addition to this, Sony began to ensure future lens designs would be designed with both photo and video in mind. All of this was to state that Sony took the next major step in the maturation of full frame mirrorless camera systems as a true alternative to established DSLR systems from Canon and Nikon.
So going back to the A7RII what do I think about it nearly five years after release? Well it’s still a really good camera and one that I recommend to people that want a very good camera on a tighter budget. There were times within the last couple of years where one could be bought new for $1300. At that price it may have been the best value on a full frame Mirrorless camera. This is especially true when you consider the Sony lens ecosystem, the costs of newer camera, or the heavily stripped down but newer options in that price range from Canon or cropped sensor options from other competitors. While I believe that the A7III is likely the best option for most photographers because its a better camera in every way unless you need the additional resolution, the A7RII does most things right. The biggest flaws of the A7RII are the single card slot, the decreased battery life compared to the newer third generation or later camera bodies, and the ergonomics may not be to the liking of many people with larger hands. While many reviews may harp on Sony menus, I truly find this and similar arguments to be redundant to highlight. If one actually uses the camera regularly and sets the cameras up for their typical usage (this includes organization of the quick menu settings, custom dial settings, and custom button settings) then this camera, like any other, will become second nature. I often find that this is an issue with people that are used to using other digital camera systems for years and/or people that are used to operating cameras with limited features by comparison. For instance I came to Sony FE cameras from a pair of Leica M9’s that ONLY captures still images without video features. As such the additional customization of video was and is a learning experience for me. Truth be told, I’m still learning video and video editing at this point but I do understand it in concept through reading and researching. Also one of the things that Sony does is allow a level of control that many other manufacturers don’t allow. This also contributes to deeper menus that sometimes have sub menus within the top menu options. It’s not a problem in general but I will say that it’s something to be aware of with Sony or really most modern cameras these days.
Another thing I often hear about Sony color is that many people don’t like it. In my experience this comes down to a few factors. First and foremost, Sony cameras have exhibited some of the most accurate color I’ve seen in a camera without any manipulation. This can be verified in vector scopes. Second, the increased dynamic range can make colors appear more “flat” and “linear” when compared to some other cameras without as much dynamic range. Third many people are more used to the color they get out of say a Canon or Nikon camera. This isn’t to say that those cameras produce poor colors but Canon has a reputation for “boosting“ the red color channels to produce a warmer tone which can be more pleasing to some in some fairer skin tones. Nikon has a reputation for yellow and green channels to blend and sometimes exhibit near “neon” colors in spring when newer vegetation is growing based on the opinions of many landscape shooters. Fujifilm has a reputation to have a slight “boost“ in the blue-green channels which can provide a different cast in some of the way certain RAW converters process their X-Trans Color Filter Array equipped cameras. Fourth, and this is really important, increased color accuracy does not necessarily translate to more aesthetically pleasing images. Sony’s sensors have a way within their sensitivity to really draw out the reflected undertones in skin whether they’re red, yellow, or olive undertones. This can give an unflattering color cast for many people (without “perfect“ skin) but a skilled editor can easily correct for this to get to a pleasing end result. Due to this, some of the newer cameras from the third generation and on have shifted to a less accurate color palette but one that‘s much more appeasing to some that prefer a warmer tone out of camera.
Where does the A7RII sit today? Well for those on a budget it represents an excellent value on a former flagship camera provided some of the shortcomings don’t pose a problem for you. These shortcomings include decreased battery life compared to modern Sony cameras, single SD card slots, a smaller autofocus area compared to newer cameras, and worse Eye-AF comparatively speaking. None of these things make the camera unusable for many but they are items that should be taken under consideration. For about 50% more money one can have the A7III that fixes most of the shortcomings and produces smaller files that won’t fill your computer storage space nowhere near as quickly. So would I recommend the camera? If you’re on a tighter budget the answer is yes but if you can swing a little more money into your budget I would probably recommend the A7III to most people over the A7RII. Where the A7RII makes the most sense is for someone that is more video focused or someone that occasionally wants access to a high resolution camera but doesn’t need it all the time. In that situation I can recommend the A7RII as it can still be purchased new with a warranty.