After attending Sony’s press conference yesterday where they company announced the a7RII, RX100IV and RX10II, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the a7RII. I’ve also spent a lot of time reading the questions users have had on the various forums. I thought I’d take some time to consolidate some of my thoughts about the a7RII, and what it means for not only the Sony platform, but for mirrorless cameras in general.
A Leap Ahead
The a7RII is a monumental camera not just for Sony but for the whole photographic industry. When the Sony a7 system launched it had a number of limitations, which the company addressed by releasing several models tailored for different types of photographers. The a7 was for general shooters, the a7s for low-light showers and videographers and the a7R for portrait shooters and those looking for the highest resolution images.
The a7II updated the all-purpose a7II with a host of incredible features, most important being the 5-axis image stabilization and on-chip phase detection autofocus. It would have seemed natural for Sony to have released an a7SII for video shooters and those that wanted high ISO capacities and an a7RII for those interested in high-resolution portraits.
Instead, Sony super-charged the a7RII, making it vastly more powerful than the a7II. The a7RII has a better autofocus system than the a7II—a much better system in fact, with hundreds of more phase detection points. It’s so fast that Sony even mentioned in their press conference that the a7RII will be able to focus competitor lenses (e.g., Nikon and Canon) at native speeds.
This means that—if true—Sony shooters will be able to use Sony lenses and Canon lenses as if they were both designed for the Sony. It will make the a7RII the most versatile camera system on the market. Instead [easyazon_link identifier="B00ZDWGFR2" locale="US" tag="texturadesign-20"]a7RII[/easyazon_link]of using the a7 system with lenses to get good manual lens use, Sony users will be able to shoot any lens for any system and get a 42 megapixel image with full-speed AF. If this bears out it will mark a watershed moment in the history of photography.
Sony also put a revolutionary sensor in the camera, a backside illuminated full-frame sensor that provides incredible low-light/high ISO performance. For photographers and especially for videographers, the a7RII now leaps ahead of the a7s, and the a7II.
The advanced AF system and sensitivity in the a7RII also begs the question “what’s going to happen to the a7II?” The a7II now has a less sophisticated AF system than the a7RII and can’t capture 4K video. The one advantage it has is a faster frames-per-second rate (though with less-accurate AF) over the a7RII.
A massive improvement that the forum commenters I’ve been reading seem to miss is the high ISO/low light performance of this system, at least on paper. (We’ll have to try it to see if it works as Sony promises.) Many people have said that they don’t want more pixels, because more pixels mean lower quality high ISO images. But this misses the technological advances of the world’s first full-frame backside illuminated sensor. This technology moves the electronic circuitry responsible for capturing the images to the back of the sensor, increasing the sensor’s sensitivity without having to decrease the pixel count.
If the a7RII performs as advertised, it’s going to set a benchmark for high-resolution high-iso image quality, and it’s going to make the a7S completely obsolete.
Head to Head
Clearly, the a7RII signifies to Canon and Nikon that Sony is gunning for them. The company could easily have given the camera a modest sensor upgrade and called it a day. Instead they put a completely redesigned sensor in the camera, gave it more on-chip focus points than any other camera and provided it with the best 4K performance on the market. This is a camera that’s designed to attack Canon head on. Canon’s full-frame camera have long been the go-to systems for video professionals, but Sony’s obviously looking to change this. On-board 4K video that reads every single pixel is something Canon just doesn’t offer right now. Every specification on this camera looks as if it’s a challenge to Canon.
It’s also interesting to see this much development in a camera without a completely new version number. This isn’t the Sony a9, this is an a7RII. That means that Sony doesn’t even consider this a significant enough of an upgrade to make this a full new model number. Partly I think this is because they still haven’t added some pro features like complete water and dust sealing and dual card slots, but partially this is because the camera isn’t even their next version. They’re telling competitors that the next pro system, whatever they call it, is going to be even better than this.
One of the things I keep seeing on forums is a lament about the growing size of the Sony a7 system. I think that there are a number of people that bought into the Sony mirrorless system based solely on the size of the a7 and its full frame sensor. While that’s understandable, the relative small size of the a7 system is only one of the benefits.
As great as the celebration of the compact body size may be, the requests from photographers for new features is even louder. It’s just not possible to add cutting-edge features in a camera system without modifying and increasing the body size to some degree. That said, many of the comparisons between the a7RII I’ve seen online are a bit flawed. One post compared the a7RII to the D810’s size, which is pretty close. But Sony isn’t aiming the a7RII to be a competitor to the D810, that’s simply the camera with the closest comparative resolution sensor. The a7RII is working to be a competitor to things like the Nikon D4s or Canon 1Dx.
The idea is to eventually produce a mirrorless camera system that has better resolution than the best DSLR camera, better autofocus than the best DSLR camera and better ISO performance than the best DSLR camera, with features like five-axis stabilization that just don’t exist in SLR bodies. While the frame rate of the a7RII isn’t close to that of the a7RII, if the image quality and autofocus live up to Sony’s statements, the a7RII will perform as well not just as the D810 but at the D4s or 1Dx.
And the a7RII isn’t where Sony is headed. The long term goal is obviously to make a camera that’s cheaper, smaller and lighter than something like a pro Nikon or Canon camera with more features. And the a7RII is the proof of concept that the company is on its way.
For photographers that care chiefly about size, and not about the technological sophistication of the system, the Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds camera system might be a better choice. Those bodies use a much smaller system in order to maximize the size of the system. If, however, you want the ultimate performance from your sensor, it’s worth giving up a bit of size to get a lot more capability.
The final lament I’ve heard online is the price—the a7RII will be $3200 when it launches. This is one I feel the least sympathy for. The a7RII represents a major leap in technology. The D810, which forum posters use to compare the size and resolution of the D810 has a retail price of $3000, but doesn’t have the same sensitivity as the a7RII, can’t use other system lenses, doesn’t have the on-chip phase detection system, and doesn’t have five-axis stabilization. For $200 more than the D810, I think the a7RII is a great deal.
The a7II meanwhile is selling for around $2000, which is a more affordable camera for someone entering the full frame market. But for a photographer making a living off of their camera, $3200 for a 42 megapixel camera with five-axis stabilization, incredible ISO range, the best on-sensor phase detection system and a host of cutting-edge features is really an amazing price.
Of course, we’ll need to see the a7RII to see if Sony’s press materials and the camera match up. But if they do, the Sony a7RII is going to be a watershed moment in photography, and it will signify Sony’s real game plan. The a7 was a nice system, a good camera to experiment with. The a7R was a great camera for portraits and showed the company was willing to expand the system and explore the needs of other photographers. The a7s showed the company was dedicated to working with videographers. The a7II showed that Sony was listening to consumer feedback and was willing to include advances to take the system to a new level. The a7RII shows that Sony is in the mood to try and crush other companies.
We’ll see how that plays out.[easyazon_link identifier="B00ZDWGFR2" locale="US" tag="texturadesign-20"]a7RII[/easyazon_link]…