Sony A7 II

Review of the Sony A7 II

If you’re considering an upgrade, this is the perfect time to get into a Sony A7 II. Because of the recent release of the A7 III, the A7 II now sells for about half of what it cost a mere two years ago. 

Overview

I have a friend who only buys the most expensive guitars instead of settling for moderately priced ones. His rationale is that he’ll feel too guilty if he doesn’t play them. 

That’s how I felt when I first read about the Sony A7 II. My photography had limped along for many years on an ancient Canon, but somewhere along the way I had lost my drive to push myself. I’m not saying that a photographer only gets better when they have top-of-the-line equipment – far from it. But there’s something to be said for a finely crafted instrument; it kindles the joy of the art, and there’s room to grow into it.

The Sony A7 II is one of those great instruments, though no longer an expensive one. Read on for our full review.

Ease of Use:

One of the biggest reasons to opt for a mirrorless camera like the A7 II is that they are smaller and lighter, compared to full-frame (and mirrored) DSLRs. However, a smaller camera body can be unwieldy, because it requires more dexterity. A camera that fits well in the hand is easier and more comfortable to shoot – especially for longer sessions.

That’s why the developers at Sony paid special attention to the ergonomics for the A7 II. While it is smaller and lighter than most DSLRs, it is also comfortable in your hand. The right-hand side of the camera is contoured to fit most hands, and features a rubber grip that’s, well… grippy, making the camera very secure.

The shutter button sits at a slight forward slope placed right where your index finger naturally falls. The on/off switch is a circular lever around the shutter button; turn it on, focus, and shoot, while hardly changing your grip at all. The most commonly used camera settings are easily accessible by the thumb. The ergonomic arrangement of these basic buttons has the clever side effect of making more room for a few extra buttons, which are customizable to access almost any camera feature.

This extra customization means that the A7 II is easy – dead easy – to use, especially once you’ve mapped the three extra buttons to suit your workflow. Personally, I map the three customizable buttons to toggle Metering Mode, Auto Exposure Lock, and Focus Lock.

The A7 II is light, relatively compact, comfortable, and intuitive, making it very easy to use. At least, on the outside.

What about on the inside? What about navigating the menus and finding those less-used-yet-essential tools?

The menu system is… relatively easy. Once you learn the layout, it becomes second nature. The menu top row stays in view, populated by self-explanatory icons. The icons act like categories in a table of contents. Below the icon categories, you’ll how many “pages” are in that category. To change pages, go left and right. Each page displays individual features and settings in a short list. page. And remember – the “scroll wheel” to the right of the screen spins left and right like a steering wheel, but also tilts up, down, left and right, like buttons. Use this to navigate, and you’ll be off to the races. 

Product Features:

  • Sensor: 24.3MP CMOS Full-Frame
  • ISO Range: Auto, 100-25600
  • Shutter: 1/8000 sec to 30 secs
  • Lens Mount: Sony E
  • Burst Shooting: 5 fps
  • Autofocus: 117 points that includes “face detection” mode
  • In-body image stabilization
  • Weather sealing around camera body and buttons
  • Wireless and NFC enabled, allowing easy image transfer and remote shutter activation from your phone or tablet
  • Articulated live-view LCD screen
  • Weight: 32.8 oz (includes batteries, kit lens)
  • 1.7 second “startup to first shot” time. More on this in a moment.

In-Depth Analysis

The most cynical verbiage on the internet for the A7 II is “very good.”

The most common adjectives include world-class, excellent, impressive, and superb.

Entry-level and Professional photographers alike will revel in the robust image stabilization system. I should say, systems: one in the camera, and typically, another on the lens. The result is much sharper photos in a wide array of circumstances, and far fewer “discards” when reviewing your shots. The camera chooses the best stabilization system for each circumstance (the two image stabilization systems do not activate at the same time.)  

You might think it would take a long time for the camera to choose the best image stabilization system for every shot – but you’d be mistaken. When the shutter is half-pressed, the image stabilization activation is practically instantaneous. This makes the autofocus much more accurate. Depending on my autofocus mode (whole frame, center average, moveable spot, etc) I can almost always achieve crystal-sharp focus on my subject within a second. When I’m using a longer zoom lens like a 70-300, the zoom motor is where the bottleneck happens. But many longer lenses like that have a focus limiting ring, which restricts the zoom “searching” from zero to infinity to find the focus. The A7 II is a snappy and sharp camera overall.  

The startup speed (mentioned above) of the A7 II is slower than other cameras.  But when you hear stats like “30% slower than X camera” that only translates to a difference of half of a second. Most people will barely notice the difference. The 1.7 seconds from switched on to shutter click is fast enough for me to capture just about anything, barring a sprinting cheetah. However, the startup time and focus are noticeably more sluggish as the battery gets low.

Who should shoot with the Nikon D7500?

This camera isn’t a jack of all trades, but it’s darn close. Its slightly younger sibling, the A7R II, is a low-light beast. But the A7 II shines in low light too. (Ok ok, pun intended.) The slower-than-average burst shooting of 5fps makes me advise that certain photographers, such as Sport and maybe Wildlife photographers,  look elsewhere. Just about any other shooter will be happy with the A7 II. 

Common Complaints

Here’s my wishlist for the Sony A7 II, confirmed by many user reviews found online:

  • If you search for all the Sony E-mount lenses out there, the list is short, and underwhelming. Sure, new lenses are being released all the time (and almost all of them are of very high quality).  However, if you’re migrating from, say, a Nikon DSLR, you may find your options restrictive. Despite this limitation, there are adapters out there for just about any lens, each with their own set of features and compromises. This means that nearly any lens from any manufacturer works with the Sony A7 II, but there is a catch.  You must be willing to makes some sacrifices, in terms of lens auto-focus, a crop factor on the sensor, slight vignetting, or in-lens image stabilization. 
  • Battery life. While some people don’t mind changing the battery once or twice during an extended shooting session, it’s a complete deal breaker for others. I knew this little factoid before I bought my A7 II, so I bought six extra batteries to keep with me at all times. In testing, I changed batteries once a day when I was on vacation. Most expert reviews say you can expect 250-350 shots per battery, but I typically shoot 800 photos per battery. Still, this is below average battery life.
  • Only one memory card slot. This is a problem if you’re shooting video. But then again, while this camera can shoot 1080p video at 60fps, that’s not what you’ll buy the A7 II for. Having only one card slot means less bulk to the camera body, which is a MUCH more common reason to buy the A7 II. 

Common Accolades

Where do I even start? This camera is built to impress.

  • Excellent Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). Sony’s in-camera image stabilization, combined with in-lens image stabilization found on most lens, means you can shoot hand-held (without a tripod) in almost any circumstance. This is true even in low light, or at slow shutter speeds.
  • Top-notch image quality. Benefitting from advanced OIS, a great auto-focus, and the full-frame sensor (among many other things), the A7 II produces very high-quality images. 
  • Durability. The case is very rugged, and the seams and buttons are weather sealed. And the A7 II is smaller and lighter than most DSLRs, it is an excellent camera to travel with, either for an afternoon or for an extended vacation.

Product & Pricing Options

Model / Name Price Link to Buy
Sony Alpha a7 II Mirrorless Digital Camera (Body Only) $1,398 B&H Photo
Sony Alpha a7 II Mirrorless Digital Camera with 55mm Lens Kit $2,396 B&H Photo

Final Words

I love the Sony A7 II.

Sure, I’m a bit of a photo geek, and I like all the latest-and-greatest toys out there. The newer A7 III, and others like it, are making HUGE technological advancements (and I confess to coveting). I just doubt I’ll ever want to part with my A7 II. It’s so solid, so reliable, and now, so affordable, that I’m tempted to buy another one just so I have a spare.

If you’re considering investing in the A7 II, remember that the order of importance goes like this: photographer, lens, then camera. Still, a top-notch camera doesn’t hurt. Just don’t forget some extra batteries. 

If you’re ready to start pursuing YOUR photography dreams today, check out my FREE training that will equip you to Show Your Camera Who’s Boss. People who take my free training walk away a more confident camera user and better photographer. JOIN ME HERE!

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