Ming Thein dizzes A7rII (but will use it)


No longer a newbie, moving up!
May 24, 2012
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The Sony A7RII

I think for a camera he ended up picking up, he literally destroys it

I found it okay but not great in the hand, imbalanced with larger lenses without a grip and that has not changed. If you want to take advantage of the wide variety of other legacy optics available, then the camera is no longer small when configured in a way that’s actually convenient to shoot. On top of that, whilst battery life has improved slightly with the A7RII, by the time you factor in the extra batteries required compared to say a D810, the camera is no lighter. It is both telling that the notoriously stingy Sony not only includes two batteries, but also a wall charger (previously not included with other A7 series cameras) in the box. Note that we are still talking 150, perhaps 200 shots maximum per battery here – this is against anywhere up to 2,000 with the D810. If we compare it to LV mode only, it’s still 3:1. And we don’t have the option to switch back to optical if we’re running low on juice. At least if you could completely turn off the monitor when not in use some power could be saved, but no – it stays on, just showing a black screen that will still draw attention to you and ruin your night vision.

The menu system is typical Sony. It is passable to those familiar, and completely unintuitive to those who aren’t. Functions aren’t really grouped in a sensible manner, and it seems there are just too many ways of changing things and certain functions that get locked out if others are selected (no custom WB with memory positions on the dial?) – plus there is no help key to aid with figuring out what cryptic abbreviations are on the fly (‘TC/UB Disp Switch’ and ‘Standard’ being direct AF point selection for the center button on the wheel – that’s really, really not obvious).

Operationally, this does not feel like a fast camera. Every action seems slightly delayed, as though damped in oil. Power on is slow. Reviewing images and zooming in is laggy. Moving the focusing point requires at least one extra button press and the box moves in small increments instead of jumping a whole box-width. Even the bite point of the shutter release is a bit too deep, meaning it feels just a little less responsive than is ideal. I’m sure the PDAF sites on-sensor will make for snappy AF with legacy lenses – both Sony and Canon – but the ergonomics are so dire that this is hardly a good solution unless there are some non-IS (but AF) lenses you must have. And practically, if you can afford an A7RII, you can also afford a 5DSR. Even AF with normal E-mount lenses is not exactly speedy – just the right side of acceptable most of the time, but in even slightly backlit situations, be prepared to wait – and get a lot of false positives.

It is, for all intents and purposes, and A7II with a higher resolution sensor. That is good and bad – if you liked the A7II, you’ll feel right at home here. If you didn’t, then nothing has changed. Unfortunately, that sensor is still crippled by the same 11+7 raw compression and some odd preprocessing that gives rise to strange texture noise in the shadows. However, it’s worth noting that at least empirically, that compression seems to be visually less of an issue with more resolution – I suppose that makes sense given there are more ‘steps’ over which to spread the transition. I’ve encountered posterization in shadow areas, but nowhere near as bad as with the A7II. Even though Sony has promised 14 bit raw, it isn’t going to fix the hardware compression that’s occurring before recording – we’re just going to have a larger container (i.e. bigger files) for the same amount of information.

No matter how many times I profile the camera or what I do with the primary curves or HSL defaults in ACR, there’s some muddiness and color indistinction going on in the shadows if you want to extract the most dynamic range from it; on the other hand, if you want clean shadows, you’re going to be faced with fairly early clipping. More profiling work is clearly required here; perhaps combined with some individual channel curve adjustments. There is perhaps 13.5 or more stops of DR in there, but not all of them are clean. It sits between the D810 and 5DSR in that respect, and is closer to the D810 in highlight handling, DR and the overall ‘look’ (both Sony sensors after all) and definitely lacks the 5DSR’s color. It probably has the least pleasing color of the three, even after profiling. Under ideal conditions, the A7RII can come quite close but does not take the image quality crown from the D810. I really still think that last bit of transparent tonality is being held back by file compression; it will be very interesting to see what Nikon does with this sensor in the inevitable D850 or D900.

One of the most impressive advances with the A7RII is on the video front – 4K (or consumer 3840px) internal recording with both full frame and S35 capture; the binning is nicely integer so the results are very, very clean indeed – to the point that the A7S is almost rendered irrelevant since we now get the benefit of IBIS, too. There is some rolling shutter, but overall video image quality leaves pretty much every other primarily-stills camera in the dust.

IBIS works. But it’s clear – as with the A7II – that it’s struggling with the increased sensor mass compared to something like the M4/3 cameras; it’s a bit less effective and selecting the correct focal length for adapted lenses appears to be more critical. (This is obviously a problem with zooms.) It unfortunately also complicates the matter of sensor cleaning greatly – though there’s a function which basically shakes the thing using brute force, I’ve already got stubborn dust spots on mine that cannot be dislodged with blower or shaker. It will have to be wet cleaned, but the sensor suspension mechanism is delicate and this makes me very nervous. Note: in four years of multiple Olympus bodies and over 100,000 images plus lens changes with no heed for ambient dust, I’ve never had to wet clean a sensor. Or even use a blower, for that matter.

When I read Ming Theins recent struggles with his gear I thought he would end up picking up the Sony A7rII and be happy with it - unfortunately it turns out: not so much.

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