Tech Review – Sony a7ii Mirrorless Digital Camera

OK, So I have had my Sony a7ii (or Mark 2) Mirrorless Camera now since about September 2017, that has given me nearly six months to play with it, travel with it and to learn various features, functions, what I love, what I loathe and what is just plain cool.

I could rewrite all the specifications, but why bother? I am not a tech head and it’s all there in black and white on Sony’s webpage.

Image from DWI

But essentially I will break it down, some of the key features for WHY I bought it in the first place.

  • Full-frame camera (My Nikon D7100 is a cropped sensor and if I was changing brands and models I may as well go full frame)
  • 5-axis image stabilization
  • Fast and effective, enhanced Fast Hybrid AF
  • 24.3 MP 35mm full-frame Exmor CMOS sensor
  • Size and Weight – Dimensions (W x H x D)126.9 x 95.7 x 59.7 mm & Weight 556 g (Body Only) / 599 g (With battery and media).

I looked at Olympus, I mean really really looked, some of my friends have it and it is amazing, but not full frame. Also, the lenses are a wee bit expensive, not that the Sony is cheap.

The Good

  • Size and weight – this is about a 1/3 weight of my bigger Nikon D7100, I was having trouble with my shoulder and I believe it was carrying the camera, bag, and all the gear. I wanted something much smaller and lighter for travelling. I also liked the idea of going mirrorless. I have done a few holiday and day trips with this camera now and I love it, also downsizing all the gear (smaller and fewer lenses) and I bought a carbon fibre tripod, has made things much lighter and easier to travel with.
  • 24.3MP, 35mm…I mean why not if you are going bigger (figuratively) and better, why not grab the extra pixels, 4MP does not seem like much, but without the cropped sensor compression (is that even the right term?) it makes a huge difference in data, and data in RAW files is what I am all about. My general image size has jumped from 24mb to 48mb……that is double the data and a much better picture quality.
  • 5-axis stabilization, this is insane, on my Nikon if I drop below 1/100 second I got a bit shaky and the image was a bit ordinary, drop below 1/60 I got camera shake. The Sony! OMG, I did a 10-second hand-held long exposure (NO tripod) and the image isn’t even that blurry, totally amazing. So imagine what it can do at 1/60, 1/40 or lower? Not that I do, but still – at 1/100, my images remain perfectly focused, no camera shake!
  • High Dynamic range, I have better detail in the shadows and highlights than I did with my Nikon, which was actually fairly good in good light. I have taken shots, side by side and I feel I have a much better tonal range as well. The colours are deeper.
  • The depth of field, granted the depth of field is subjective and based mostly on your F/stop, however shutter for shutter, same settings I love the bokeh I get on the Sony, soft and hazy and pretty.
  • Sony Play Memories Mobile App – this is a love-hate so it will appear here and in the hate section. A little confusing to set up, until I realized it needed a software update straight out of the box. I love the total control, the focus point from my mobile phone is brilliant I can change all my settings and then edit in Lightroom Mobile and post – all straight from my phone. Love it (see below for the disclaimer)
  • Burst mode – Ummm amazing, Sony says it does 5 fps in continuous shoot mode, but burst mode is truly fabulous, love it.
  • Auto Focus, another love-hate, the focus is gorgeous, when it works (See below), but with my 50mm and 28-70mm I have no issues and it is beautiful in natural light. I have been using it more and more for Still Life and Portraits and it has an elegant softness to it, not tack sharp like the Nikon, but almost romantic and lovely. Shooting backlight is amazing. The details I can pick up is stunning.
  • In general, I like the feel of it in my hand, the rubberized grip is good too. The menu system is quite good and everything is fairly easy to find. I love the reticulating back LED screen too.
  • The manual focus is really cool and some fab features that go without, the peak focus meter is great.
  • the F/stop aperture range is amazing and the ISO goes down to 50, the sweet spot seems to be ISO125.
  • My camera came with a 50mm and a 28-70mm lens, both are gorgeous to work with.

The Bad

  • Some of the knobs and dials at a little fiddly, I don’t have a lot of small finger dexterity so they can be a pain to adjust.
  • No GPS
  • The sensor on the back LED Screen is a little too sensitive.
  • Focus – I have a problem with focus, especially when I use my 18-200mm Sony E-mount Zoom lens. One minute it is focused and then next it is not, with nothing changed. At first, I thought it was me, then perhaps my camera, but other Sony@7ii users have made the same complaint. It is not the sensor, nor the lens, nor the photographer, as it works sometimes and then not others…we believe it is software related and hopefully, there may be a fix soon? If I use the focus off my phone with the app – NEVER an issue. Also I really only have the problem with the bigger lens, the 50mm and 28-70mm don’t seem to have as many issues.
  • The Sony app…….love, love love everything about it, HOWEVER, it converts all the images to 4mb jpg! Seriously? What can I do with that? So I just don’t use it
  • Also, the Sony really struggles to focus in poor light, an issue for night time photography!
  • No Flash, you can buy a separate flash, and it has trigger functions built in, but don’t work without the flash. Also won’t trigger my studio strobe lights.
  • I bought an E -mount 18-200mm Sony Lens, which seems to be a cropped lens, still works but my image size drops down to 24mb 😦 my fault I guess, I bought it as a Dual Import.
  • It is not as adaptable, just about any camera gear you buy works with Canon or Nikon, I am finding it a little difficult at times to find things to work well with Sony, but there are more and more coming out ie: remote trigger, cordless timer etc.

The Ugly

  • Power usage, this is a killer (apparently for most mirrorless cameras), even if I am mostly using the eyepiece and not the live view screen. Lucky if I get 300 images or 3 hours out of a battery! So I need four of them! A day trip out could potentially use 3 batteries! It is a pain.
  • Liveview, I cannot seem to zoom in on a shot like I could with the Nikon, I loved zooming it, checking the focus and then taking the shot, I can only do it on manual, such a pain.

In Conclusion

I believe the good significantly outweighs the bad and the ugly, I love this camera, the more I use it in the studio, especially with a soft backlight, the more I fall in love with it, yes the images are soft, but perfectly in focus. The details and dynamic range are superb, and when I am travelling a lot or shooting portraits, that is very important.

I still have my Nikon for studio work, however, it is being used less and less, I need to buy a trigger that works with my studio lights, then the Nikon may only get used as an emergency backup.

I love the camera, the light weight and the images, swapping from my beloved Nikon, was difficult, but the Sony is winning me over. I still stand by the crack sharp focus of the Nikon lenses, but there is something to be said for the softer Sony lenses too.

~ Julz

P.S. I will try and follow up with a review of the lenses as well. If you would like me to discuss further or cover more in depth any of the features, drop me a line.