The Sony a7s was announced at NAB 2014, and started shipping in June/July. The a7S II was announced a few weeks ago and will start shipping in November.
That’s just over a year before a completely new model will be available. If this seems surprising to you, I predicted it in 2013, so brace yourselves for a future where you are going to find a new camera every six months – just like mobile phones.
The questions we want answered are:
- Is it worth upgrading to the a7S II if you already have an a7S?
- Is it worth upgrading to the a7S II if you already have an a7R II?
I fall under both these umbrellas, so let’s get started with my reviews of both cameras:
And here’s the review of the a7s:
Important: Since the a7S II isn’t out yet, I’m going to make a lot of assumptions and educated guesses. Please understand that this is my opinion. If you don’t like it, stop reading. The information may be plain wrong or incorrect, so please don’t take any action based on this comparison.
This comparison is primarily for video shooters, though we’ll also include some photography features. After all, our species are merging – at least in our clients’ eyes.
Here’s a comparison of photography features and why I think the winner is whoever they are:
|Low light ability||a7SII|
|Viewfinder and manual focus||a7RII/a7SII|
With the a7rii you can shoot 18 MP or 10 MP (approx) in RAW if you feel you don’t need the size. Or you could just use the BFG and shoot 42MP (7952 x 5304) every single time!
Dynamic Range: The a7Rii is due for a firmware update that will bring 14-bit uncompressed RAW to it, but I’ll give this one to the a7S II for one simple reason: It can do better dynamic range at more ISOs, period. At base ISOs though, I think they’ll be too close to worry about.
Low light ability: The a7rii has a native ISO range of 100-25,600 ISO, which can be expanded from 50 to 102,400 ISO. The A7s and a7S II are just warming up at those levels.
Image stabilization: The a7Rii and a7S II has 5-axis image stabilization. Watch the video below to see how it is supposed to work. Sony claims this new stabilization is as good as 4.5 stops. In other words, if you have to shoot something at 1/500th of a second, but due to low light you are forced to shoot at 1/20th of second, you will get the same level of sharpness. I’m not too sure about this claim, but it does help no doubt. Also, you only get all the axes under certain conditions. The sensor needs focal length and focus distance confirmation. If you’re using third-party lenses (like most of us are), you need to dial in the focal length every single time. But how do you dial in the focus distance? All in all, though, I’ve found the internal stabilization works great (better than nothing), so no complaints.
I give this one to the a7S II because any small mistake is easily noticeable at 42MP.
Autofocus: Sony claims the new phase detection technology gives them a 40% increase in speed and accuracy. The autofocus on the a7 series is nowhere near a Canon 5D3 or Nikon D810 in both speed or accuracy, but an improvement is an improvement, right? Also, the a7rii has a larger focus point array so it can track better. Here’s a video on how this works:
Again, I give this to the a7S II because it has fewer pixels to track over, and should be (albeit infinitesimally) faster.
Viewfinder: The a7rii has a 2MP-ish viewfinder that’s better in every way. I can already focus to greater than 90% accuracy using focus peaking on the a7s, at f/1.2. The a7rii was supposed to make it that much more easier and better. Here’s a video:
In practice though, I’ve found the focus peaking function works better with the a7S than the a7R II, both at mid setting. For now, I’ll give this to the a7S II.
Shutter vibration/noise: The new shutters are rated for 500,000 shots – I can’t remember any other manufacturer declaring a shutter count even close to this number. The newly announced Phase One XF camera that costs more than your kidneys has a rated shutter count of only 300,000 give or take.
Winner? Surprisingly, there’s no clear winner. Here’s how I would pick it:
Do you want 42 MP – really?
- If yes, you need the a7R II.
- If no, then:
Do you need video – really?
- If yes, you need the a7S II.
- If no, then:
Get the a7 II or put your money back into the bank.
I’ll be honest. If you want the ultimate image resolution photographs from the a7R II, you better be prepared with some great technique and exceptional lenses. If you want the same but for video, you better be prepared to put in the time to learn S-Log2, S-Log3, using an external recorder (the built-in 100 Mbps 4K is unacceptable as a professional codec), dealing with ND filters, etc. If you don’t like this advice, stop, and continue your fantasy.
Here’s a comparison of video features and why I think the winner is whoever they are:
|Internal Recording||a7R II|
|Super 35mm Mode||a7RII|
|Full Pixel Readout Full Frame||a7S II|
|Internal Data rate (UHD)||a7R II|
|Record button||a7R II/ a7S II|
|1080p and HFR||a7S II|
|Low light ability||a7S II|
|Timelapses – DAY||a7R II|
|Timelapses – NIGHT||a7S II|
The a7R II overheats pretty quickly, and needs to shut down for a while before it can record again. The a7S II has a lot less data to crunch, so should give us a few more seconds. Seriously, though, I wouldn’t use either for professional work. Also, the a7S II seemingly can’t record 4K in APS-C mode (internally). That’s a damn shame.
Codec: The cameras record in the consumer-grade XAVC S codec, in 8-bit 4:2:0. If you want a broadcast-approved codec, then you must use an external monitor.
Sony had announced a new 5” external monitor to go with the a7rii and a7s. To really shoot cinematic 4K and to expose correctly in S-Log2/S-Log3, you need an external monitor with scopes. You also need a large monitor to focus correctly, because it’s really easy to miss focus while watching the back LCD, assuming it’s not obstructed by something.
The new monitor announced by Sony sits on the hot shoe mount, and has most of the features you need, like zebras, waveform, focus peaking, false color and one very important new tool – a special aid to expose S-Log2. As I explained in my Atomos Shogun review, you can’t be serious about tackling a variety of projects in 4K and not have an external monitor:
Data rate: You only get 100 Mbps in 4K internally – that’s the same as recording 24 Mbps AVCHD. Still, having the feature to record 4K internally is never a bad thing. After all, if your external recorder dies, you still have something to fall back on. But I’ll make this clear: This is not an acceptable data rate for UHD compressed to H.264. You need at least 200 Mbps to compare with a 50 Mbps 1080p recording.
a7R II wins it because it can do both APS-C and Full frame internally.
Super 35mm or APS-C mode: In APS-C mode, the a7rii samples a 5K (5168 x 2912, crop factor 1.5 – similar to the A7s) video stream and downsamples it to 4K, so in this regard, the 4K in APS-C from the a7rii is slightly better than the a7s, resolution-wise. And it can record in 4K in this mode internally.
Full pixel readout FF: Nothing will beat the a7S II in full frame mode. Fat pixels and a full readout ensure the best possible image quality.
Moire/Aliasing: Because of interpolation, I believe the a7s II will beat the a7rii in full frame mode, though the a7R II is surprisingly resistant to moire (except on the back LCD).
Rolling shutter: The a7s has bad rolling shutter artifacts, and it improves slightly in APS-C mode (like if you were pricked by four thorns and one got pulled out). The a7rii is the exact opposite. It does better in full frame mode but worse in APS-C mode. Choose between a rock and a hard place.
Record button: It’s still in the same place, but is now programmable to the shutter button, so both a7S II and a7R II is better.
1080p and HFR (high frame rate): The a7S II can do 120p in 1080p, that should say it all.
Low light ability: The highest ISO for video for the a7R II is only 25600 ISO. The extended ISO is only available in stills mode. The a7S and a7S II destroys this performance with their little pinky fingers. However, the a7S II has one ace. Its base ISO is 1600.
Timelapses – DAY: a7rii wins on timelapses during the day or when long exposure is okay. The ability to pan and scan is a huge advantage.
Timelapses – NIGHT: When you really need low light timelapses and can’t afford long exposures, the a7S II wins. The difference between the a7S being the better body and an uncompressed RAW format.
A quick thought on stabilization for video: If you’re the handholding type with a love for shaky cam, then stabilization is critical (Unless your plan is to get people to pay for induced motion sickness). For those who have spent years learning to stabilize their cameras on the shoulder-mounts, camcorder-style rigs, steadicams, helmet cams, car rigs, etc., the stabilization will help. When you get tired and your arms start shaking on all 5-axes, some of that pain will not be visible in your footage.
For everyone else who needs and have spent a lot of money on a rock-solid camera platform – tripods, dollies, jibs, gimbals, etc., the stabilization is not going to be relevant. In some cases, it will fight against your platform (“I want to push an inch that way” “No, you’re not.”)
Winner? Looking at the things that really matter for video, the Sony a7S II wins. Not only does it have better exposure tools and picture profiles, but it also has excellent dynamic range over a wide range of ISOs.
Ergonomics and other features
Let’s compare the miscellaneous features before we wrap up:
|Mode Dial Lock||a7S (!!)|
|Weather protection||a7RII/a7S II|
|Battery life||a7S (!!)|
|Price||too close, but dare I say a7S??|
Reasons:Mode dial lock:
The a7rii has a new mode dial lock feature so it doesn’t accidently turn, which is cool and cumbersome at the same time if you want to switch a lot. The a7S is better IMO.
Grip: The a7rii and a7S II have better grips for stills shooters. Get ready to order new cages if you want to switch from the a7S.
Weather protection: The a7rii and a7S II have better weather protection, and are tougher. I should know, because I fell on mine.
Battery life: The BSI sensor and new processor will need more power, and the a7rii is only rated for 290 shots against the 380 shots on the a7s with the same battery. That’s a 25% reduction. If you could only shoot 40 minutes of video with the a7s, you can now shoot only 30 minutes with the a7rii on the tiny toffee-sized battery. The a7S II will also be worse than the a7S because of the better viewfinder and internal recording.
Weight and size: The newer cameras are bigger and heavier. The a7s weighs 489 grams, while the a7rii weighs 625 grams (both with card and battery). That’s a 20% increase, and not unsubstantial if you’re rigging the camera on a gimbal or steadicam.
Price: You’re not spending peanuts, so don’t count the peanuts.
Winner? Now here’s where things get interesting. In many categories the original a7S still makes sense. If you consider price, it’s cheaper. It is a tough camera in its own right, and there’s nothing spectacular about the a7R II or a7S II ergonomically that justifies switching.
First, here are our winners for each category:
- Photography: a7R II or a7S II
- Video: a7S II
- Ergonomics and Price: a7S
It’s time to answer the questions we set out to answer.
Should you replace the Sony A7s with the Sony a7S II?
Reasons to switch:
- Internal image stabilization
- Internal 4K recording
- Uncompressed RAW for stills
- S-Log3 (one more thing to learn, though)
- Better body and grip
- Better exposure tools (in theory)
- Better autofocus (though it’s probably going to be negligible in practice, if the a7R II is any indication)
- You can change the position of the record button
Reasons to stay put:
- You still need an external recorder for good video.
- You still need an external recorder for 4K APS-C.
- It is the same sensor, so you’re not going to see a noticeable difference in dynamic range or image quality.
- The a7S is lighter and smaller.
- You’ll need a new cage and new HDMI lock (the newer one is better, though)
- You still can’t easily toggle APS-C mode (I hope I’m wrong here).
- You don’t have to worry about overheating.
Should you replace the Sony a7R II with the Sony a7S II?
Reasons to switch:
- S-Log3 (one more thing to learn, though)
- Better exposure tools (in theory)
- Better dynamic range over more ISOs
- Incredible low light performance
- Possibly lesser overheating time (is that even an advantage?)
Reasons to stay put:
- You need 42 MP
- You need internal 4K in APS-C mode.
What kind of shooter are you?
If you’re the more-photographer-than-video shooter type, the a7rII is definitely calling your name. You’re the one who shoots video like he/she’s shooting stills – camera to eye or camera to a monopod or toothpick-sized-lightweight-but-expensive-carbon-fiber-tripod. You’re the one who hikes to far-off mountains to shoot breathtaking timelapses. You’re the one who is commissioned to shoot stills but must return with some video. You must travel light because they can only pay for half a person. Get the a7rII.
The well-paid or rich photographedio
Or, if all the above applies to you, but you’re getting paid a whole lot more (like 10 times more), then get the new Leica S (Typ 007):
- It also shoots 40 MP but it has a larger medium-format sized sensor
- It has possibly the best collection of lenses on earth (and beyond)
- It is simplicity and ergonomically supreme, and is totally weather sealed – even you can’t get into it
- It shoots internal 4K video in 4:2:2 in Super35 mode
- It costs $16K body alone, and you can now charge 10x more just to recover this price.
If you’re shooting weddings or corporate videos, and must impress clients in real-time, and love the prospect of waiting to get paid on a life-long basis, then the a7rii is not worth it. Why? Otherwise your miserly and art-blind client will also ask you to start shooting stills for the same price. Kidding aside, if you really can’t carry around an external recorder and your clients are happy with the internal recording (most of them are, even the top-end paying ones), then the a7R ii is a go. If you are okay with the external recorder, then stick to the a7S – because it’s already paying for your kids’ education. Spending more won’t get your clients to pay more.
And finally, what if you’re high-end? Cinema, shorts, commercials, selfies? You bought the A7s but call it an Alexa. Get the a7S II. Among the three it rules when it comes to options.
As for me, I’m a blogger. My rig can look like this:
My personal favorite? The Sony a7S II.