Foreword: I thought about writing a detail.ist review of this camera, but, after postponing it for nearly a year, I’ve realised I simply cannot. Please bear with me, I will explain why.
Some time has passed since I purchased the nifty SONY NEX-6. What a camera that was… It wasn’t a side-kick, it was a friend. But. The time came for me to upgrade. I thought I’d go all out and make the switch; join the full-frame gang. So I bought the SONY A7RII (ILCE-7RM2).
Was it a bad move? No. Did it make me feel complete? Also no. Worst of all, I did not become a better photographer because of that. This article will stray from the usual direction of Idea / Design / Form vs. function / Opinion. This is going to be an analysis, which happens to include a review.
As you might’ve or mightn’t’ve noticed, I don’t like listing the full specifications of a product, you can find the spreadsheet on SONY’s official website HERE.
The first question that people ask is “Why is it so expensive?”. While I cannot answer this directly, I can compare it to SONY NEX-6 and its price. At the time of posting this article, you can still find the NEX-6 body for sale on Amazon.co.uk (although used, but in very good condition) for £199, whereas the A7RII will set you back £1699 new (discounted from £2400, due to recent A7RIII release). So is the full-frame SONY 7 times better than its crop-sensor counterpart? It all depends on your expectations and requirements. The A7RII has a bigger sensor, an in-body stabilisation system, 4K recording, “eye-lock” focusing system, S-LOG2 picture profile, and a bigger sensor. Did I mention the bigger sensor?
That… is pretty much it. And the price increase does not stop there. Remember, that you WILL NOT be able to use your NEX (crop-sensor) optics on your new SONY device, or you will have to deal with some insane vignetting. You CAN, of course, set your full frame camera to imitate a crop sensor, but that is just a waste of pixels (and money). This situation corners you into buying SONY’s premium range lenses. (I have to mention that they do offer a decent “nifty-fifty” 50mm f1.8 for a down-to-earth price, but all their other lenses are easily twice the price).
Remember, I am not a professional photographer, and, hopefully, never will be. I take photos for me and you. I do, however, enjoy the technical aspect of photography. I enjoy spending time on my photos, crafting them to something I can call “good”. SONY A7RII is definitely a camera you can “nerd out” about. 14-bit uncompressed RAW (1 file weighs about a 90MB), a maze of a menu for settings and customisations, insanely large dynamic range, and, if you’re keen enough, a “hackable” OS (also known as firmware). There is so much to play with, so many things to tweak. It’s a toy like no other.
But for me, it’s all that it is – a toy. For a person who uploads his photos to Instagram / Twitter, or share them in any other way via the internet – a 40 megapixel camera is an overkill. Remember, Instagram photos are 1080px wide/tall. The camera outputs an image that is 8000px wide. That means that even a compressed jpg at that size takes about 10MB. Which is pretty much unusable. 90% of websites would resize it or compress it to hell. Eventually you will end up creating your own photo website (Photos), where people have to download hundreds of megabytes of data just to view an album.
It’s a camera for professionals, no doubt. Sports photographers, Studio / Portrait photographers or even landscape photographers would absolutely adore this camera and its capabilities. The low-light performance is stellar, with photos that you can keep zooming and zooming in on. BUT… what’s the point of it being compact then? For a person who has to carry a full bag of gear, a few mm in camera thickness will not change a thing.
I remember seeing this camera used extensively in travel photography. I always thought that it was so compact, you could take it everywhere with you and shoot anything and everything. However, the reality is rather different. I have to say it. I’d gladly go back to a crop sensor SONY NEX. Sure, I’d miss all the resolution and detail (that is only noticed by other “pixel-peepers” and myself). But I’d gain versatility, compactness and overall fun.
SONY A7RII is not a 35mm film camera. Not even close. You will never be able to whip it out of your pocket and snap the moment.
Not at this point in time. SONY has been reluctant in making a compact 50mm lens for the camera (due to limitations of lenses as a physical object). Lenses like Voigtländer are brilliant, but they are not as compact as one would think, and they come with some major drawbacks such as corner softness and vignetting. The only option for a user like me would be to use a 35mm lens or a vintage, converted 50mm f2.8 lens with an adapter. Neither of those are an option to me at the moment.
SONY has also sacrificed another thing in their pursuit of compactness – the battery. Oh the battery. It is tiny, it’s nowhere near the size that it needs to be for a camera like that. Why? Let’s get into it. Once you switch the button to “off” position, the camera stays in standby mode; it is still ready to be switched on immediately. Hence, that consumes battery. The large sensor, the AF motors, the in-body stabilisation, the EVF, the screen, the proximity sensor, all requires a lot of battery power… And this camera uses the same battery that’s included in the NEX-6! The camera tends to lose a lot of charge when sitting on a shelf, doing nothing – you can’t just grab it and go, you HAVE to make sure all batteries are fully charged before you leave.
The sensor is brilliant, I must say. The amount of information it captures is staggering. Highlights, shadows, all can be saved with a flick of a mouse. However, the sensor is too good for the camera itself. The processor is simply not powerful enough to process all that data. It takes a good 2-3 seconds to preview a RAW image you’ve just snapped, which is a pain when you are doing portraits, as you might want to make sure you hit the focus right. The workaround is to turn on RAW + JPEG capture, the camera will preview the JPEG instead. But that results in wasted SD cards space.
And it’s details like these, that makes the camera an object you interact with “sometimes” instead of “all of the time”. That makes it a deal-breaker for me. I want the camera to be an extension of me, not the other way around. I do not want to care about it. I want it with me, so we can do some travelling and etch some memories into the internet. If SONY won’t release a magical pancake lens (which they will not do), I will continue to look at “downgrades” such as APS-C sensor sized FUJIFILM X-Pro 2.
In the end, SONY A7RII is not your friend. It’s your colleague. It’s your partner. You’d better mean business when you have it in hand.