Sony a7ii with Sony FE 70-200 F4 G OSS & Nissin Di700a and i40 Flashes

Sony a7ii with Sony FE 70-200 F4 G OSS & Nissin Di700a and i40 Flashes

The Sony a7ii offers improved ergonomics and in body image stabilisation over its mark 1 variant. My first full frame (FF) camera, I upgraded to the a7ii after attempting to shoot low light events with my Alpha a6000. There were a number of first impressions I had. 

Low Light Performance

An approximate 2.25 stops (1.5^2 = crop factor^2) improvement in low light ISO compared to the a6000 was immediately striking. Being able to shoot at ISO 8000 on the a7ii looking roughly similar to ISO 3200 on the a6000 was invaluable for weddings and great for prints.

Landscape Dynamic Range and Noise

Not only that, but the base ISO of both cameras (100) on the a7ii yielded 2.25 times less noise than the a6000. Although admit-ably a luxury, it was definitely noticeable for my landscapes, especially when recovering shadows. The dynamic range was very similar between both cameras. According to DxoMark, the a7ii has a 0.5 stop advantage in dynamic range over the a6000 and 0.3 stops less than the a7Rii.

Sharpness - Full Frame versus Crop Sensor

Using my Sony FE 70-200 G OSS lens on both cameras, it was far sharper on the a7ii. DxoMark rates the a6000 with the 70-200 F4 as perceiving 11 megapixels (MP) of detail. This compares to 15 with the a7ii. This is based off the 36 megapixel a7R result of 23 perceptual MP multiplied by the ratio of MP between the a7ii and A7R (24/36)*23. Previously, I had never retouched an image. But having upgraded to full frame, the detail was astonishing and the a6000 images in my portfolio just seem soft by comparison. On the upside, soft images don't really require much if any retouching. If however you do put in the effort when working with high quality files off a full frame camera and sharp lens, you can get some outstanding results. For landscapes, its amazing to zoom in on details.

Putting the full frame lens on the full frame a7ii also yielded F4 as a pose to F6 (F4*1.5=F6). Although the a6000 is pretty much universally accepted as the superior focuser, with FE lenses I did find the a7ii focused quicker. Though, its to be expected as the a7ii is taking advantage of the full amount of light the lens gathers.

Build Quality

I had long been unimpressed with the build quality of the a6000. Simply holding the camera, the a6000's grip would feel like it gave way under pressure of my hand and the shutter button just felt cheap and unresponsive by comparison to the a7ii. The magnesium body of the a7ii doesn't give way under pressure from hand holding at all. it feels solid, what you'd expect for the price you pay for this camera. Although I was happy in my ignorant bliss with the a6000 before I ever used an a7 camera, the first time I used one ruined my perception of the build quality of my a6000. However, given the price, the a6000 is still a great value. 

The electronic viewfinder (EVF) was another improvement. The difference between 1.44-million dot vs. 2.36 million dot is noticeable. The a6000's viewfinder was far smaller and more pixelated. I didn't find the pixilation as noticeable, but the increased magnification is definitely a awesome luxury to have. Any modern mirrorless camera will have a great EVF, and this camera is no exception.

In-Body Image Stabilisation

Many rave about the in-body image stabilisation (IS) in their new a7ii. Since most Sony lenses are stabilised, it really didn't make much of a difference to me. The one exception is with my 55mm F1.8 lens. One thing that’s great about the in-body IS is it stabilises slight rotations to the camera, most useful when pressing the shutter button.

Battery Life

With the new in-body IS and great EVF, the battery life was awful. At a general 15-hour wedding, I use on average 5 batteries and at times, almost 8. That’s turning the camera off when not being used. My other dSLR (Nikon d750) using colleagues said in their years shooting weddings, they had never needed to change batteries in a day shooting a wedding (1 or 2 batteries).

Lenses

Having heard mostly positive impressions so far, I have some huge problems with this camera in my line of work. I regularly shoot weddings and sometimes even sports. For both of these events, the 70-200mm is the lens I grab. Sadly, the only native lens for FE mount is the 70-200 F4, which is absolutely unusable for professional work without flash. I am often forced to shoot at ISO 12800, which looks absolutely horrible, whereas my coworkers can shoot at ISO 6400 on their Canon 5D's 70-200 F2.8 lenses. For that reason at receptions I almost always use prime lenses. For sports, I can't use it as the 55mm F1.8 is nowhere near telephoto enough, and I end up cropping so much its worse than using the 70-200 F4. If only Sony would come out with F2.8 zoom lenses, it's one of the biggest deal breakers for professionals wanting to use Sony mirrorless.

Sony lenses are also very expensive for what you get. For example, the Sony 35mm F1.4 sells for AU$2100. The Sigma 35mm F1.4, a slightly sharper lens that doesn't have focus by wire is $900. Similar trends can found comparing 24-70mm lenses. The Sony FE Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS sells for $1200 and on a 36MP sensor yields 15 megapixels of detail. The Tamron 24-70mm F2.8 on a 36MP sensor yields 22 megapixels of detail and an additional stop of light yet is $100 cheaper. For the same price of the Sony 70-200 F4, you can get a Tamron 70-200 F2.8. Same for the 50mm lens category. The Sony 55mm F1.8 is the same price as the Sigma 50mm F1.4. There are numerous other examples, but be sure to visit DxoMark.com to investigate your lens and camera body combination.

Focusing

The next biggest deal breaker is the focusing. Having put together a wedding portfolio, I had to eliminate a huge amount of images that missed focus. Some are kind of usable with a lot of sharpening, but I have missed a huge amount of moments shooting weddings with this camera. And that assumes it focuses at all. Often, it will just focus from closest to infinity and just give up. Luckily, the Sony bodies have build in AF assist lights. Sadly, they are blocked by the lens and lens hood, so thats also pretty useless. The white 700-200 F4 just reflects the AF assist light back into your own face. 

On top of that, all flashes for Sony mirrorless that have AF assist lights don't function. The last possible thing to try is manual focus. Focus peaking in good light makes it easy. However, it doesn't seem to work as well in low light, and the focus by wire lenses make it very frustrating. Turning the focus wheel slowly almost does nothing, whereas turning it quickly makes it focus from closest to infinity in a matter of millimetres. This also makes the native Sony lenses completely unusable for video manual focus pulling.

Ergonomics

As aforementioned, the A7ii has improved ergonomics from the mark 1. I can definitely agree. Holding onto the first a7 was like holding onto a sea urchin, it was awful. The grip in terms of depth was absolutely tiny. The mark two variant has a larger grip, which is far better. Yet, the grip doesn't seem tall enough to fit my 4 fingers on it without on slipping off the bottom. This can be agonising on a long shooting day. Some just tell me, get the battery grip. It's AU$500, and completely offsets the benefits of the small size and weight of the camera. It's also is poorly designed, as it doesn't allow you to keep a battery in the camera unlike Nikon battery grips.

Summary

The Good

  • In body 5-axis image stabilisation allows for stabilised fast prime lenses and adapted lenses. Truly a unique advantage.
  • Compact and lightweight.
  • A dial for every setting: ISO, shutter speed, aperture, EV comp.
  • 4 custom buttons.
  • S-Log2 video
  • Great image quality when paired with sharp lens.
  • Tilt screen
  • WIFI and apps.
  • Mic in and headphone jack.
  • Tethering capability using USB 2.
  • Live histograms, zebras, focus peaking.

The Bad

  • Focusing. I have to throw away a huge amount of missed focused shots. Its fine in portrait or static situations (presuming their is enough light) but at wedding receptions on the slow Sony F4 zooms, it can be very unreliable. This is extremely obvious when comparing sport photos with portraits. Please, please do not buy this camera for sports. Continuous focus is only available with the on-sensor phase detect in the middle of the frame and do not compare to dSLR cameras. The A7Rii has improved focusing over the A7ii.
  • Laggy EVF not great for sports.
  • Battery life could be better.
  • No touch screen.
  • Not weather sealed (weather resistant)
  • Ergonomically difficult to hold. Especially on the bottom right hand finger that hangs off the bottom because the camera is so small, it has no place to sit. 
  • I prefer the a7 mark 1's dials.
  • E-mount is not the most robust of mounts. Both my a6000 and a7ii have rotational play between the lens and body. You won't notice it out the box but sooner or later. You can buy a third party mount but that voids the warranty.
  • I have accidentally changed settings without realising. Most commonly, turning auto ISO to ISO 50. Thats a quick way to ruin any photo in low light situations.
  • The shutter is far louder than most dSLR's. It can get you some strange looks.
  • No native F2.8 zoom lenses available. The F4 zooms are expensive and aren't as sharp as competitors.
  •  AF assist light is on the body, which is always blocked by the lens and lens hood. Flashes such as the Nissin i40 or Di700a (basically all flashes for Sony mirrorless) that have AF assist lights are disabled by Sony. Additionally, Sony mirrorless flashes have plastic hotshoes. I've already snapped a flash off my a7ii.

 


The Bottom Line

A great travel camera and great for events with the exception of sports events and low light weddings. Conversely, it has rather average ergonomics that forces you to change your grip. I still surprise people that I am a Sony mirrorless shooter especially in the wedding industry. In my opinion, if you want to shoot professionally, get the a7R mark ii or a7Sii. If my experiences have helped you, please share my content to others you'd think would find this helpful.

Further Reading

I have more thoughts on the Sony Mirrorless system at the following article:

Mirrorless vs. DSLR. Sony a7ii vs Nikon D750 - Comparison Between Brands & Why I Switched to Nikon - Blog Article

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