A Review of the Sony A7s II Camera – 4K Mirrorless Full-frame Alpha
Sony’s new Alpha A7s II is a direct follow-up to the original Alpha A7s from last year and while this new full-frame mirrorless shooting machine keeps a lot of the essential specs and external appearance features of the original Alpha, it has also come with a number of powerful, exciting new changes.
While the same fantastically high ISO setting of 409,600 has stayed the same between the two cameras, this newest Alpha also comes with fully internal 4K video recording capacity that’s far superior to the 4K video recording the former Alpha could do only by relying on an external 4K recorder. Furthermore, the new Alpha A7s II comes with a number of other new refinements that make it into a generally superior machine.
In total, this latest Sony 4k camera offers all the power of its predecessor while portably allowing for 4K video at 24 and 30 fps and manages to do this in a way that creates far clearer, sharper more exquisite 4K (and HD) video than what was the case with the older version of the Alpha. The new Sony A7s II is not a cheap camera for the budget conscious but boy is it ever worth its purchase price.
There’s plenty to enjoy about the Alpha A7s II and it’s a bit tricky to know what to begin with. However, thinking about it, we’d have to argue that this camera’s single coolest feature (even more so than its internal 4K shooting capacity) is the excellent degree of low light shooting power it offers.
The entire A7 series is designed with this kind of photography in mind and the SonyA7s II excels at it at least as much as its predecessor, possibly more if we take into account the fact that you can now also pull off superb low light shots with 4K resolution. The A7s II offers the same maximum sensitivity setting of ISO 409,600 and comes with a more common native range of ISO 100 to 102,400. Furthermore, the body comes with some of Sony’s most advanced 5-axis image stabilization technology that only adds to the smooth sharpness of imagery under difficult low light conditions.
We should also add that the A7s II features a new set of circuitry and improved noise reduction algorithms for much better noise control than was the case in even the original A7 II as well as a number of other cameras in the series, such as the A7 II and A7R II. This means some of the best night shooting in the entire A7 line for the A7s II.
Next along, there is the A7s II Alpha’s heart and soul, which is its full-frame 12.2 Mp Exmor CMOS photo sensor, which offers the interesting technology of keeping a somewhat lower than expected pixel count while expanding the size of the sensor itself, meaning that the individual pixels can be made larger for the sake of a much sharper, stronger level of photo detail, for photo shooting in any light conditions, not just under darkness. In other words, the A7s II’s photo capture chops extend beyond its low-light specialization into a wide array of photography applications.
Finally, we’ll also mention here the superb new 4K video capture technology that this latest A7 comes with. With its internal video recording capable of capturing 4K ultra HD video at 3840 x 2160 pixels and at frame rates of either 24 or 30 frames per second, the A7s II delivers some very decent 4K UHD footage that, while not quite up to professional production camera par, is still more than good enough for a wide range of field and amateur uses. In fact, the quality of the captured 4K UHD video shots we’ve seen is nothing less than great, with excellent color realism and some very interesting in-camera video (and still image) editing features helping things along even further.
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Sony has really put a lot of fine detail and professionalism into revamping the already great Alpha A7 II, so you can imagine that the result in the A7s II is going to be something rather impressive. Given this, finding anything we could really call “bad” in this camera is not exactly easy. However, since no camera is perfect, a couple of mostly minor details are worth mentioning.
First of all, the A7s II is not at all what you’d call an affordable shooter. As such it’s not exactly the ideal device for just any kind of photographer. What really makes this particular camera stand out is its capacity for night time shooting. At this it excels more than anything else and if you just want the ability to shoot 4K UHD video under normal conditions, there are better and much more affordable models on the market that will probably suit your needs just fine at a much lower cost. One example that comes immediately to mind is the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ300K 4K camera. It offers the same 4K video frame rates and also delivers a superb level of footage quality. It just doesn’t handle low light nearly as well as the Sony A7s II.
In other words, the 4K video of the A7s II is not extraordinarily above the normal, its low light video and photos are. If you don’t need these, you can save a lot of money and go for something more affordable.
We should also note that the lower number of megapixels in the A7s II’s sensor does indeed reduce the maximum level of possible detail in comparison to what you might get with a shooter that offers, say, 15 to 20 megapixel stills. While the larger photo receptors in the full frame sensor of the A7s II do indeed create sharper images, users who want photos they can blow up to enormous proportions might be better off with something that offers a larger overall still photo pixel count.
We really can’t recommend the Sony A7s II enough to anyone who wants a superb 4K mirrorless full-frame shooter that does some excellent night shooting. If you want a camera for creative shots and videos in the dark, this is one of the best on the market in its class. However, if you’re just looking for a compact camera for 4K and HD video or high-res photography under normal conditions, the price of the A7s II will be a major turn-off.
Camera Type: 4K mirrorless full-frame camera
Video Resolution: 3840 x 2160 pixels
Sensor Type: 12.2 MP EXMOR 35 mm full-frame CMOS photo sensor
Recording Formats: Video: AVCHD 2.0 / MP4 / XAVC S Photo: RAW, RAW & JPEG, JPEG Extra fine, JPEG Fine, JPEG Standard
Recording media: Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo, Memory Stick XC-HG Duo, SD memory card, SDHC memory card (UHS-I compliant), SDXC memory card (UHS-I compliant)
Lens Mount: Sony E-mount lenses
Display: LCD 3.0 in type TFT LCD
Microphone: built-in mono microphone
Connectivity: WiFi, NFC one-touch functionality, HDMI micro connector, Microphone terminal (1/8 in stereo minijack), Headphone terminal (1/8 in stereo minijack), Multi/Micro USB Terminal
AVCHD: 3840 x 2160p: 24, 30fps, XAVC S shoots 4K at 100Mbps, 1920 x 1080 (60p/28 Mbps/PS, 60i/24 Mbps/FX, 60i/17 Mbps/FH, 24p/24 Mbps/FX, 24p/17 Mbps/FH),
MP4: 1440 x 1080 (30 fps/12 Mbps), 640 x 480 (30 fps/3 Mbps), XAVC S: 1920 x 1080 (60p/50 Mbps, 30p/50 Mbps, 24p/50 Mbps), 1280 x 720 (120p/50 Mbps)
The Sony A7 II is generally sold at its base price as a body-only camera, so unfortunately there isn’t going to be much in the way of in-the-box accessories coming with this shooter. Furthermore, if you want to really take advantage of its capacities or shoot much of anything at all decently, you’ll have to get your hands on at least one of Sony’s many E-mount lenses, of which a number are sold. As for what you get with the camera, it will come with your pretty standard package of an AC-UUD11 AC Battery Charging Adaptor, shoulder strap, body cap, multi-Interface Shoe cover, eyepiece cup, Micro-USB cable and the usual standard 1-year limited warranty.
We’ve already covered a number of the goodies that this camera features as its main specs above but to rehash and expand further, the Alpha A7 II is definitely a step up from its predecessor the Alpha A7 original camera.
First of all, there’s the fact that it can now handle 4K video recording as one of its internal features and furthermore, offers this option at a cool 100Mbps due to the new XAVC-S compression codec the camera uses for its 4K videos. This means a more economical overall video formatting system and easier storage of the video footage that the A7S II captures. In addition to this, you also get the considerably enhanced ability to capture 1080p HD video at 120 frames per second with a full-frame readout. This not so little detail is in fact a first ever for one of Sony’s A7 cameras. We should hover also note that video shot with the A7 S II, despite its high bit rates and frame rates (at least for HD) is limited to 8-bits, instead of the 10-bits of Sony’s most professional video shooting cameras.
Furthermore, the Alpha A7 II comes with a new shooting mode called S-Log3, which is capable of doing 14 stops of dynamic range that put it roughly on par with equivalent capacities for video in true cinema cameras like the Arri Amira.
Next, we should move onto the combination of extremely high ISO and the cameras superb 5-axis stabilization technology (which makes it a great drone camera). Both of these are features that were also added to the older A7S but in this case, the A7S II augments the quality of their shooting further by adding new image processing and cleaning algorithms to the Bionz X processing engine inside this shooter. But, moving back to the stabilization and ISO, the 5-axis stabilization engine allows for much less shakiness and blur on shots taken under dark conditions and a new autofocus system with 169 AF points offers a much quicker, sharper and more accurate focusing that can even be used to focus on objects not visible to the naked eye in the dark. This is helped out considerably by the extremely high ISO and consequent noise reduction capacity of the A7S II.
Finally, we love the new OLED 3 inch electronic viewfinder on the camera. It offers and excellent 0.78x magnification that’s great for focus on details in general and particularly useful for manual focusing at night.
As you can see a lot of the Sony A7 S II’s highlights revolve around its specialization as an excellent night time shooter.
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Truly, the overall photo and video performance of the Alpha A7 S II is nothing less than superb, and we’d expect little less for the price this camera is retailing at in the wake of its very recent release. The original AS7 was one impressive shooter and this newer, slightly augmented remake of it takes things a couple steps further in terms of quality across the board. Still photos and high resolution videos taken with the camera come out with superb detail, clarity and glitch free cleanness and the 4K video it captures, despite the somewhat average frame rate of 30 fps (or 24 under certain settings) looks great, particularly due to the larger photo sites of the camera sensor.
However, what the A7 S II really excels at is night shooting and noise control is almost next to none in this class of camera. The max native ISO of 102,400 offers some excellent low light shots even under tough conditions in which movement or zoom on distant objects is required and the 169 AF points of the camera also help to create excellent video clarity even in really difficult, dark conditions such as closed rooms with low light. On the other hand, the top expansion ISO of 409,600 might be something you’ll want to avoid using unless you really have a particular need for it under some heavier conditions.
The A7S II’s capacity for in-camera recording is also a great change from what was possible only via an external recorder on the older A7S. Now, the camera is much more compact, easier to move around with and a superior performer under field conditions.
In general, if you’re looking for one very ideal shooter and video recorder for lots of low-light projects, the Sony Alpha A7S II is just about as good as it gets for a camera with its size and type.
As we’ve already covered, the A7 S II delivers some excellent and extremely sharp 4K video while also putting out photos with a superb level of clarity despite its 12.2 megapixel full-frame sensor.
Due to the use of the XAVC S codec for Full HD and 4K UHD video, the A7S II can manage both resolutions at very high bit rates and because it uses all of the information from all captured pixels without line skipping and pixel binning, the camera is capable of offering maximum power from its full-frame image sensor. This produces a quality of both 4K and Full HD movies that is very high and crisp, with hardly any moiré, particularly for 1080p HD at 30 fps. In essence, the camera oversamples information from five times as many pixels as are needed for generating Full HD and collates then filters this data for movies of maximal Full HD clarity, based in effect on pixel data that was more suited for a 4K shot.
While U.S pricing for the newly released A7S II isn’t yet clearly available (we’ll update this section as soon as we know more), this new Alpha is selling in the European market for a current and considerable retail price of 3,400 Euros, putting it on par with some professional 4K video production cameras as far as its price goes. Update: Its on sale in the US market for $2,998.00
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As we’d already said, in the way of less than ideal features, the Alpha A7S II has very little going against it. It could use a slightly better organized touchscreen menu that more clearly separates photo and video controls and some users might prefer to get more megapixels from their shooter for photo stills. These things aside, the biggest factor working against the A7S II is its high price. If you’re just looking for solid 4K video under normal filming conditions, there are much more affordable 4K mirrorless cameras and video camcorders available on the market.
• Absolutely superb nigh and low light shooting ability
• Excellent EXMOR full-frame sensor
• Robust build
• 169 AF points
• Massive ISO
• Remarkably crisp 4K and Full HD video quality
• Expensive, very expensive
• Could use better organized touchscreen menu controls