Sony a7R II 4K Preliminary Guide: Ergonomics and Specifications

Disclaimer:

Since the Sony a7R II isn’t out yet at the time of this writing most of this guide is conjecture – the result of relying on information provided by Sony, educated guesses and my personal experience and analysis based on the work I’ve done with the Sony A7s. It is only a starting point, from which you will hopefully continue to research and find what best suits your workflow. The information provided here might not be accurate or relevant. You are solely responsible for your decisions and actions.

This guide covers everything from how to select the right lenses and accessories for the Sony a7R II to workflows in production and post production to get the best out of your footage. The main menu which links to all sections can be found here.

I have one bit of important advice: Buy only what you need. If you can’t judge rationally, get somebody with experience to assist you. A complete camera system is a constantly evolving thing, and you’re better off starting with the bare minimum and adding stuff later, than spending all your money on a setup that will evolve anyway.

In this part we’ll cover:

  • The ergonomics and controls of the Sony a7R II.
  • Camera specifications, and what you can expect.

Who is the Sony a7R II for?

In Sony’s own words:

…By harmonizing high resolution, sensitivity and speed, we’re delivering a high-level full-frame imaging experience unlike anything else in market today, with Sony’s newly developed, world’s first back-illuminated 35mm full frame CMOS sensor…

…In the past, many photographers have been forced to choose between high-resolution and high-speed or high resolution and high sensitivity when selecting a camera.  The new a7R II eliminates that sacrifice thanks to its innovative image sensor…

Compare that with what Sony had to say about the a7S:

Sony’s new A7S model puts extraordinary sensitivity, low noise and spectacular 4K video quality into the hands of professional photographers and videographers

Common to Sony’s range of professional video cameras, S-Log2 expands the dynamic range by up to 1300% to minimize clipped highlights and loss of detail in shadows.  Additionally, for the first time ever in a Sony camera, the A7S adopts the workflow-friendly XAVC S recording format in addition to AVCHD and MP4 codecs

It is enlightening how Sony does not mention the word ‘videographers’, nor dwell too much on the video features and enhancements on the a7R II. It is quite clear that the a7R II is more for the photographer than for the videographer. If you want to know how they compare, and whether you should ‘upgrade’ from the a7S to the a7R II, read my extensive article on the subject.

Here is the official launch video of the a7R II:

And here’s the first showreel:

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The difference between Ultra HD and 4K

If you have to ask, then I know you’re a noob. Start by reading What is 4K Television? In short, there’s no practical difference. And yes, the Sony a7R II is capable of generating movies good enough (actually way better, because Super 35mm scanned film never had a resolution of 4K!) for theatrical 4K projection.

Some might complain about using the nomenclature ‘4K’ when, in fact, the camera is UHD. It is irrelevant.

Ergonomics, Connectors and Buttons

Due to its small size, once the a7R II is kitted out for production, it becomes the smallest and most irrelevant part of a rig. Any large lens will seriously make the system front heavy for both stills and video shooters. The a7S did not ‘sit pretty’ on even medium-sized hands, though the a7R II follows the more beefier design of the a7 II, and has a bigger hand grip:

ErgonomicsSideTop

The other major difference with the a7S are the side ports. The HDMI ports have been moved to the top, but generally they all do the same things:

a7riisideports

The connectors are simple and self-explanatory, and we’ll look into them in more detail later. One thing to note is the multi-port, which is a proprietary port Sony uses for two purposes:

At the back is the 3″ LCD TFT display with a resolution of about 409K pixels (about 315 ppi). You could use it to zoom in and focus on static subjects, but is in no way adequate for 4K focus pulling.

The big improvement is the internal 5-axis image stabilization (which only works ‘completely’ with certain lenses, but still ‘works’ with manual lenses) which will definitely help in run and gun and handholding situations. To counter this new feature, the a7R II also has equally poor rolling shutter artifacts as found on the a7S.

The other bad news on the ergonomic front is the camera has only one 1/4″ UNC tripod thread at the base, and no other mounting points (except the hot shoe at the top). This means, you’ll be forced to use a cage with multiple rigging threads if you want to add an external recorder, an EVF and an audio recorder. From experience with the a7S I can tell you the mounting point isn’t very strong, and this is one case where the additional mounting point on a lens adapter (which we’ll cover in a subsequent part) is mandatory to keep the entire system from twisting around in a rig.

In short, this camera is the worst ergonomic nightmare possible for a video camera to be. For stills though, it’s pretty decent. The body is supposedly weather-sealed (though with an external lens adapter that goes out the window). For my philosophy on camera ergonomics and rig design, please read the Chapter on Ergonomics in the Comprehensive Guide to Rigging Any Camera.

Specifications and what you can expect from the Sony a7R II

The important specifications of the camera are as follows:

Sony a7R II Specifications
Sensor Size 36x24mm, with APS-C crop mode option for HD and 4K (ISO 100-25600)
Horizontal Crop Factor based on FF 35mm 1
Lens Mount Stainless steel FE mount specifically designed to hold heavier lenses
Maximum Resolution 3840 x 2160
Frame rates at max. resolution 24p, 25p, 30p
Claimed Dynamic Range About 14 stops*
Recording Format/Codec XAVC-S (100 Mbps UHD, 50 Mbps 1080p) and AVCHD (28 Mbps) internally in 1080p; Uncompressed 4K via HDMI (8-bit 4:2:2)
SDI Connectors None
HDMI Connectors Yes (Micro, Type D)
Thunderbolt Connectors No
3.5mm TRS headphone jack 1
3.5mm TRS microphone input 1 (unbalanced)
LANC inputs No
LCD Monitor 3″ TFT
Audio Specs 2 channels 48 kHz and 24 bit
USB Multi-port
Included Accessories Lens cap, two batteries, straps, AC adapter, charger, USB cable
Included Software None
Warranty 12 months

*Unlike with the a7S, Sony is not shouting the dynamic range from the rooftops, so probably it’s as good as the a7R, though we’ll have to test to know for sure.

Audio is a weakness, though if the quality of the preamps are on-par with the a7S, it’s not half-bad.

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My take on the Sony a7R II

I have already claimed in this article that the a7S is still the better camera for video shooters looking the best image quality (and let’s not forget the mind-blowing low-light ability). If you already have the a7S, you might want to wait for the a7S II. With 5-axis internal stabilization and a beefier construction, the a7S II will be untouchable.

The only peers (so far) to the a7R II are the Panasonic GH4 and the Canon 1DC. Check out this comparison to see how they compare to the older a7S. Many of the thoughts still apply here. Bottom line is, the a7R II is the most drool-worthy camera in the market today.

What the Sony a7R II desperately needs is a global shutter. Its rolling shutter artifacts are as bad as any DSLR, if not worse. Unlike the a7S, there is no low light ability as a selling point, and the internal codec is weak (more later). In my opinion, the Sony a7R II is more a photographer’s camera that does video. It seems like it ticks the right boxes, so if you’re happy with what it offers it might be the ideal camera for you. But then you can say the same of any camera.

If you don’t need 4K, I cannot recommend the Sony a7R II. At 1080p, the line-skipping aliasing in full frame will probably be as bad as the Canon 5D Mark III with Magic Lantern RAW. However, if you’re a photographer who’s asked to shoot video once in a while, I can’t think of a better camera, except maybe the Leica S (Typ 007). Unfortunately, you can buy eight a7R IIs for the price of one Leica S Typ 007, though the latter will give you medium format and 4:2:2 internally. What cars do your clients drive?

If I had to improve the a7R II, I would add the following features:

  • Up to 60p in 4K (or 120 fps in 1080p).
  • A MUCH better battery.
  • At least 200 Mbps internal 4K recording.
  • More FE lenses.
  • Greater recording limit (right now it caps at 30 minutes).
  • Better autofocus for video (right now it’s unusable for professional work).
  • A registration pin along with the tripod mount.
  • An even faster sensor readout so rolling shutter artifacts are history – or a global shutter.

This guide will try to address each of these issues and find the best substitutes possible for them.

I believe the Sony a7R II is good for almost any kind of professional project. It is far too expensive if you’re just an amateur or enthusiast. It will demand perfection from you, in both stills and video.

In Part Two we’ll look at the lens options for the Sony a7R II.