Lebron James is being compared to Michael Jordan. A few years ago Roger Federer overtook Pete Sampras. It’s inevitable, Neo.
In the camera world, Sony is playing solo, outdoing itself withe every subsequent model. Pined for the A7II, A7r and the A7s in one package? Well, here it is, the Sony a7RII:
- It has internal 4K recording
- It can also shoot 42 MP photos
- It can go up to 25600 ISO (see below)
- It has internal 5-axis image stabilization
- It has a beefier construction and hand grip
- It comes in yellow (just kidding)
We all knew this was coming sooner or later. At first glance, the Sony a7R II looks like a replacement to the unbelievably unbelievable Sony A7s. A classic case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object? Maybe, or maybe not. Let’s put them head to head to find out if it’s worth replacing the A7s with the a7rII.
Important: Since the camera 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:
|Dynamic Range||probably similar|
|Low light ability||a7S|
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 has a newer sensor, called BSI (Backside Illuminated). In short, it allows the pixels to capture more light so the theoretical advantages are greater dynamic range and better low light ability. However, to counteract this effect, the pixels are also a lot smaller than those found on the A7s. My hunch is that the dynamic range will be too close. Anyway, this is not that significant because all of the newer Sony sensors have more dynamic range than most photographers are photographers.
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 is just warming up at those levels.
Image stabilization: The a7rii 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 will help no doubt. Also, you only get all the axes under certain conditions. The sensor needs focal length and focus distance confirmation. Like in the a7ii, you might be able to dial in the focal length, but how do you dial in the focus distance? All in all, though, if the a7ii is anything to go by, this feature kicks ass for any lens you might want to throw on the camera.
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:
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 will make it that much more easier and better. Here’s a video:
Shutter vibration/noise: The first a7r had a shutter vibration problem so pixel peepers complained you couldn’t take advantage of the full resolution at certain shutter speeds. Well, that’s old news, because now you can shoot with an electronic front curtain and full silent mode and it also has a new shutter that has 50% lesser vibration. Oh, by the way, the new shutter is 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? The Sony a7rII, of course. The only feature it lags is low light, but even 12000 ISO is good enough for most photography. I think the Nikon D4 and Canon 1DX will not be replaced by sport shooters, but for anything else, the a7rii is the new king.
The a7rii does not have an optical low pass filter, so you’re going to get the best resolution the sensor can deliver. Sony claims their high-end FE lenses are capable of resolving whatever the sensor demands, and so far it’s proven true more or less. But on the flip side, if your lenses are not good, it will show. Still, that’s something that comes with 42 MP, so it’s not a Sony problem.
Question is: Are you 42MP good?
Here’s a comparison of video features and why I think the winner is whoever they are:
|Full Pixel Readout Super 35mm||a7RII|
|Full Pixel Readout Full Frame||a7S|
|Data rate (UHD)||a7RII|
|Rolling shutter||probably similar|
|Record button||in the same place|
|1080p and HFR||probably similar|
|Low light ability||a7S|
|Timelapses – DAY||a7RII|
|Timelapses – NIGHT||a7S|
Now with internal 4K recording you don’t have to bear the cross of an external recorder, or do you?
Codec: The camera continues to record in the consumer-grade XAVC S codec, in probably 8-bit 4:2:0 (no mention by Sony on what it is, but who wants to bet otherwise?). If you want a broadcast-approved codec, then you must use an external monitor.
Curiously, Sony have mentioned the HDMI is clean feed, but have not mentioned whether it’s 4:2:2 or not. It probably is and they just forgot to add that in the press release. Sony have also 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, 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. When you look at it like that, the a7s isn’t really at a disadvantage.
Data rate: Like the GH4 you only get 100 Mbps in 4K – 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.
It won’t stop people from using it, but people also spend money on selfie sticks, so what do I know?
Full pixel readout Super 35mm: The a7rii can also record in APS-C mode like the A7s, but with a twist. 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, I think the 4K in APS-C from the a7rii should be better than the a7s, resolution-wise.
Full pixel readout FF: When you’re recording full frame, Sony does not mention a full pixel readout – how is that possible anyway? This would mean the sensor should be reading out an 8K video that is downsampled to 4K in realtime. That doesn’t seem practical to me, so in theory (and I could be wrong), the camera will line skip in full frame mode. If this were true, I believe we’ll have greater aliasing on the a7rii in full frame mode. I could be wrong here, but based on what I know, I don’t think I’m wrong.
Moire/Aliasing: Because of the line-skipping, I believe the a7s will beat the a7rii in full frame mode, though the latter will be better in APS-C mode. However, the a7rii doesn’t seem very appealing for just S35, because then the a7s does better with its low light ability.
Rolling shutter: The a7s has bad rolling shutter, and it improves slightly in APS-C mode (like if you were pricked by four thorns and one got pulled out). The a7rii has 3.5 times the data reading speed, though it is not certain whether it’s only in stills mode or also in video mode. Also, in APS-C mode, since the camera scans from a larger area, the rolling shutter in APS-C mode for the a7rii will, in theory, be slightly worse than the a7s. On the whole, considering the line skipping, I believe the rolling shutter of the a7rii will be equally bad to the a7s.
Record button: It’s still in the same place! All that muscle memory you’ve built up will continue to be useful.
1080p and HFR (high frame rate): Both cameras record 1080p upto 60 frames per second and 720p upto 120 frames per second. Because of the line-skipping, it could be that the a7rii has worse performance than the a7s at 1080p, though for now there are too many variables to call this one. Let’s not punish the Omen before it has killed its first victim.
Low light ability: There’s fine print in the press release that states the highest ISO for video is only 25600 ISO. The extended ISO is only available in stills mode. This is where the a7s returns the 42 MP punch back at the a7rii. Will the 25600 ISO be usable? Not likely. So in low light, the a7rii will not really shine, but we’ve been spoilt by the A7s. What I’m curious to know is if the S-Log2 setting starts at 3200 ISO like with the a7s. If so, then you don’t have many ISO settings to play with. Let’s see how that pans out.
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 wins.
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? Going by sheer numbers it’s a tie! Read my final verdict for a better perspective on things.
Ergonomics and other features
Here’s a product video:
Let’s compare the miscellaneous features before we wrap up:
|Mode Dial Lock||a7RII|
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 custom white balance a lot.
Grip: Like the a7II, the a7rii has a better grip for stills shooters. Get ready to order new cages if you want to switch.
Weather protection: The a7rii has better weather protection, and is tougher all around.
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.
Weight and size: The a7rii is bigger but I don’t think it’s that different, while the weight is. 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: The a7rii costs more, but so does the a7s with an external recorder, so it’s all relative to what you need. I don’t think price is an important factor in this comparison. It’s not a small difference, but maybe the result of this comparison is you might have to buy both. Ever think about that?
It’s time to answer the question we set out to answer: Should you replace the Sony A7s with the Sony a7R ii?
The pros of the a7rii:
- Internal image stabilization
- Internal 4K recording
- 42MP stills
- Better body and grip
- Possibly better (as in, lesser) rolling shutter in Super 35mm due to faster readout and line skipping
- Better at timelapses
- Only 100 Mbps internal recording, not cinema or broadcast quality
- Possible line skipping in full frame mode
- Passable low light performance
- Moire and aliasing due to line skipping in video (not for stills)
- You still need a monitor for serious 4K shooting
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 $25K 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 a7rii 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 $700 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. Stick to the a7s. I don’t think the a7rii will outdo the a7s on dynamic range, noise, low light and quality of 4K. Seriously, do you want to pay $700 more for line-skipped 4K??
As for me, I’m a dreamer, my rig usually looks like this:
Even when I try to take things out, they come back on again. I’ve grown quite comfortable shooting and flying with it, and it can look small when strategically placed next to my midsection.
It’s clear now. Lebron James isn’t as good as Michael Jordan. Federer is the greatest, but I like Pete better. The a7s holds its place on my rig.