Let me just start by saying, it doesn’t matter which way you look at the Sony A7Rii, it is a ridiculous thing. Ridiculous in every sense. If you view it as bad, it’s ridiculously bad, yet entirely simultaneously it can be viewed as ridiculously good! I know this for a fact, since I myself have both views depending on the day you ask me. In the extremes, the Sony A7Rii is a camera I love to hate and hate to love, and through this relationship with it, it manages to perfectly illustrate the worst of the problems I have with modern digital cameras… So I thought I’d write my sort of Sony A7rii review…
Actually, this isn’t the only reason I wanted to write about it. If you pay close attention you will have noticed that photos taken with these Sony A7 series cameras have recently sneaked their way into posts on 35mmc. I posted a few in my Jupiter-3 post, there’s even a picture of one of them in the post about the Yashica lens mod… And this next photo was taken – for fun – with a Sony A7rii. A rare occurrence, let me tell you!
This has all happened for a few reasons really. Prior to getting my M9 I kept getting asked to include a few digital results in reviews. I decided it couldn’t hurt – so one of the full frame Sony’s seemed like the logical choice. It’s also happened because of the previous interest in lens adapting and modification rearing its head through my playing with various compact camera lenses. Not to mention the fact that actually, I use them to take most of the gear photos that accompany the posts write on here. To be fair, they’re also compact and 35mm format too, so in some ways maybe they deserve a place… maybe… …
One way or another – however I try and justify it – the Sony A7Rii has pushed its way into this blog, and really this probably just comes down to the fact that it’s a big part of my photography life. It is after my main works-camera; the work horse of my photography and video company. It’s possibly even the camera I take most photos with. As such, I know it fairly well, and me being me, this also means I have quite strong opinions about it!
Sony and me
The Sony A7Rii is one of 6 cameras that Sony has released in roughly this form factor in the last 4 and a half minutes – or at least that’s how it seems. In reality it’s probably been about 4-5 years since the original A7 hit the market. I’ve so far owned half of these cameras. I had the A7R first, then the A7S, and now the A7Rii. The first two replaced my Nikon D800 which was the last Nikon in a long line of DSLRs I’d owned dating back to when I bought my D70s when it first hit the market. The original Sony A7R was built around the same sensor as the Nikon D800, so when one replaced the other, I thought the step would be easy. I was very wrong! The Nikon functioned properly as a mature professional product. As a first generation product the A7R had some significant limitations. In fact, I later sold the A7R after I became so frustrated with the autofocus that I felt sure I would smash it.
In fact on one occasion I did smash it… but that was down to its flimsy build quality and an accident in the studio, and not my frustrating experiences. (Pro tip, it’s good to have good insurance if you shoot with Sony cameras professionally!) I digress. One way or another, my Sony A7R was eventually replaced with a Sony A7Rii resulting in this being my main works-camera with the Sony A7S as a backup.
Thankfully Sony thought it wise to implement autofocus that actually functions into both of these cameras. In fact, it actually works so well now that I haven’t dreamed of throwing either of them out of the window for autofocus issues, even once… But this doesn’t mean I don’t think about replacing them…
The issue is – even before you take into account how they function and perform – with Sony replacing these cameras every few years with new better models, I feel driven to replace them every few years. This has the unfortunate impact of them feeling almost disposable. As such I don’t find myself bonding with them as tools in the way I do with my Leicas, or indeed as I did with my Nikons before. Now you might ask why I am so driven to replace them so frequently? Well, sometimes I ask myself the same question, but actually I find myself having some surprisingly sensible answers that are largely to do with the nature of the Sony system.
A young system
As alluded to, the system itself is still very young. It’s not like the Nikon or Canon systems of SLR’s where advancements amount to little more than minor refinements. The difference between the first gen Sony A7R and second-gen Sony A7Rii is stunning. The original had the aforementioned impossibly slow autofocus, but there were plenty of other problems ranging from significant to the seemingly quite odd. Even the A7R shutter button felt like it was in the wrong place! It’s safe to say, the A7Rii solved a good chunk of issues in the upgrade from its predecessor. As such, as a user of this system, seeing such significant upgrades happening, just makes me wonder just what the A7Riii will bring?
Never ending upgrades
This is the question that pretty much summarises everything I dislike about the digital photography industry. The never ending upgrade path is enough to drive me to distraction! But unlike with Nikon where I became quite pragmatic about it and shot with cameras for much longer, Sony have me trapped in this idea that 2 years is plenty long enough to own a digital camera.
What’s most frustrating for me is the reason I feel so caught up in this frame of mind. I’m no longer after better image quality, I’m not after higher numbers of pixels, ISOs or even focusing speed anymore. I literally can’t think of anything else Sony could bring in those “bigger” or “faster” stakes, the A7Rii has all those things pretty much nailed. All I want from the next generation of Sony is for it to be a better camera.
When I say “camera” here, the distinction I want to make is that I don’t want another “gadget” like the one I hold before me today. Possibly slightly unrealistically, I want the camera that my old Nikon D3 was, with the size of the A7Rii. Not knowing if that what’s next from Sony, or if there will be at least a good sized step in that direction just keeps me waiting for the upgrade… Which frankly, is just not the way I like to live my life!
The issue is – whether I like it or not – having sold my Nikon’s and committed to the Sony system I’m not about to take a step backwards. I’m sold on the theory of a mirrorless camera, now I just need the reality to catch up with my practical needs. Until then, there’s no escaping from the fact that my main works camera is the Sony A7Rii, and really as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I don’t think I could possibly be any more torn about how I feel about it!
The Sony A7rii Review
The Sony A7rii is a full frame 42 megapixel compact mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. It has a BSI sensor, which as far as I know is the first of its type in this size of camera/sensor. BSI stands for back side illuminated (which is funny if you’re English and have a puerile sense of humour). What exactly this means I don’t [care to] know, but what I do know is that it’s technology originally used in small sensor cameras to increase the low light/high ISO capability alongside increased pixel counts. Scale that technology up – as has been in the A7rii – and you find yourself with a large sensor, a very large pixel count and – thanks to the backside illumination – very low noise even at fairly substantial ISOs.
Additionally to this, there’s also very good phase detection AF (the lack of which made its predecessor slow), 5 axis image stabilisation, 14bit raw processing and it does in camera 4K video to boot. If you don’t know what much of these numbers and phrases means, it doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that this all adds up to a device that has stunning output potential. In fact in real terms, the output is so good that it completely outperforms my needs. To the extent in fact that – when combined with the way the Sony A7rii is designed – it makes me feel like a lazy photographer.
Absurd high ISO performance
The cornerstone technical feature in the lazy approach that the Sony A7Rii’s instils in me is the aforementioned high ISO/low light capabilities. I really can’t emphasise enough how absurd the high ISO performance of this camera is; it can be used almost without concern for the ISO it’s set to. It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve delivered photos to clients that were taken at 12,800 ISO, and comfortably too. What’s interesting about the high ISO output of this camera is that thanks to its extraordinary pixel count, what noise there is seems relatively hidden in the tiny pixels. There is noise there, but you have to zoom in so much to see it, it’s hardly visible when viewed as a full image.
As a professional with clients to satisfy, I won’t deny that this does bring some significant advantage. For example, I’ve made dimly lit wedding venues look reasonably bright, without needing to worry about flash. This pains me a little bit, as the results tend to be those taken in rooms where the light is poor and lacks contrast, resulting in images that I just wouldn’t take within my hobby.
Unfortunately, the world has turned to a point where people still want weddings in fancy hotels with terrible lighting, but at the same time also want discrete reportage photography with coverage all day. Given these shooting circumstances, I just find it hard to argue that shooting 3200iso at f/1.4 is a better option than f/2.8 and 12,800iso.
When the goal is taking a photo of a slightly drunk uncle Steve making inappropriate jokes after a few to many pints of Boddington’s, does a hair’s breadth of depth of field make a more interesting photo, or does capturing a bit more focus of the face of Auntie Sarah who’s evil-eyeing Steve from over his shoulder? In the world of documentary wedding photography, the answer is almost always the latter!
That being said, once you’ve extrapolated that specific advantage across the very-few-other situations I might find within the realms of my pro career, I personally struggle to find much real world else use for very high ISO shooting.
Lazy ISO-less auto shooting
That is of course apart from where it comes to the laziness I mentioned. Some people call cameras like these ISO-less. What’s meant by this is that to all intents and purposes they can be shot at a broad range of ISOs with little impact on the results. I mentioned that there’s an impact on the images, but that it’s only really visible when you zoom right in. This is especially significant to me as a professional photographer as it means that really any impact to the files is only evident to me in my post process. Broadly speaking, clients don’t zoom in on images, and even if they do, a lot of the time the images they receive are downscaled meaning that they can’t zoom in so much as to be able to see it anyway.
The result of this is that the auto-ISO function of the camera becomes a huge crutch. When I’m on a shoot I’ve got to a stage with the Sony A7rii that I just feel like I can let it do its thing. Quite often I just set it to auto ISO and aperture priority, set it so it doesn’t use a shutter speed less the 1/125th of a second or an ISO higher than 12,800, and just take photos with little concern for what ISO it’s choosing.
The viewfinder; and making a good exposure
This is all further aided by the fact that it has an extremely good digital viewfinder. When you put the Sony A7Rii to your eye, there is little sense of a disconnect from reality as there used to be with digital viewfinders. In fact, since the viewfinder is such high quality, and yet is still digital, it brings about with it the distinct advantage of you being able to accurately see the exposure you’re about to take. If what you see is not what you want, more importantly, you’re able to quickly act on the information before you press the button.
With all the automatic functions working, acting on the exposure info in the viewfinder comes down to using the exposure compensation dial that sits conveniently under your right thumb. This means that even in pretty difficult lighting situations, a near fully automatic shooting camera can really easily be manipulated into taking the exact exposure you want very quickly and easily. This is so much the case, that I even find myself looking at the screen on the back after I’ve taken a photo less with the Sony A7rii than I did my DSLRs.
Manoeuvrable raw files
What makes all this even more crackers is that even if you do over or underexpose, there’s so much room for manoeuvre in the raw files that it hardly matters. Admittedly, with how fool proof the automatic exposure system is when combined with the exposure compensation dial, it’s hard to imagine getting an exposure wrong. Of course, in reality, difficult lighting is difficult lighting, and snap judgements about what to expose for aren’t always going to be correct. With the A7Rii though you can err so much toward retaining highlights that areas of an image can be very dark and still be readily recoverable. As with any camera, it’s good to practice to find that line where the noise becomes too intrusive for your tastes, but I’ve found shooting the Sony A7Rii remarkable in this regard. It certainly makes exposure a less worrisome process.
Another massive crutch is the absurd resolution of the thing. 42mp is such high out-of-camera resolution that it sometimes feels like it’s nudging me to not really work all that hard even when it comes to framing. After all, if I don’t like the framing of a photo I take, I can just crop it to something I do like.
When I first starting shooting digital as a pro, one of my cameras – the Fuji S5 pro – was six megapixels. Six! Nobody complained about file sizes then, and nobody would now. My backup Sony A7S is only 12mp, and that never gets noticed as a limitation either. As a pro I’m hardly ever (read never) shooting for massive end physical image size, and even if I was it would be very rare that I couldn’t get away with delivering a 2000 x 3000px image.
This high camera resolution and ability to crop is also aided by modern lenses. Lenses these days are very sharp, but moreover, they’re sharper at longer distances at wider apertures. Even within the length of my photography career, I’ve seen big advancements in the objective quality of lenses available for 35mm size format camera. With my Nikon d800 and 50mm f/1.4 afs – a relatively new lens – I had issues. It was fine closer up, even wide open, but at a distance at the same apertures, the results just weren’t sharp – certainly not sharp enough to make use of the Nikon’s 36mp high resolution for cropping. Since then the likes of Zeiss and Sigma have upped the anti. Toward the end of my time with the Nikon system I had a Sigma 50mm Art which was an incredible lens. And equally with the Sony/Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 I’m never let down when it comes to the resolving power at my fingertips. Combined with the camera, this just gives me even more headroom for cropping.
Awesome, but unrewarding
This all makes for a camera that sounds amazing I know. But, as I’ve alluded to, in use I just can’t get away from how lazy and cack-handed it makes me feel. The issue is, when I shoot with the Sony A7rii I just don’t feel like I’m doing my job properly. This might all sound like I don’t care about my work, or don’t take pride in what I deliver to clients. But this simply isn’t the case. The reality is – as mentioned – the Sony A7rii simply far outperforms my requirements, and indeed the requirements of my clients.
In the world I work in, when I’m taking photos that will mostly be resized down to 1600px on the long edge for use on websites, or at most be used for a full page advert in a magazine where the aforementioned 3000 x 2000px is more than enough, even within the realms of this lazy approach, 99% of the time I’m actually way over-delivering on what I produce.
As a generalist, I produce product shots, photos of building and vehicles, LinkedIn profile head shots, PR and press photography, photos of events etc (you can see all the stuff me and my team shoot here) all to a technical standard that is higher than the expectations of the client. The Sony A7Rii makes this easier to achieve than any other camera in my photography career, but it does so in a way that feels like I’m being lazy. This laziness within the methods with which I shoot it somehow leaves me feeling a little hollow, unsatisfied, and almost like I have cheated my way to the end result. The quality-headroom combined with the level of automation on offer just makes life too easy.
So use the camera properly then!
I’m sure to many his sounds like a completely ridiculous thing to moan about? For one, having a tool that allows one to complete a task in an easier way surely shouldn’t be quibbled at? And really if I have a problem with all the automation then why don’t I just shoot the camera in a more manual way?
Well of course, I could shoot it in a more manual way, perhaps I could set the Sony A7rii properly for each shooting environment as I do with my Leica M9 or any of my manual film cameras. It could even be argued that since the camera allows the room for error that it does, taking a more manual approach might give me back the satisfaction I require, but yet be less risky than if I were to use a less technically good camera. All of this is I suppose true…
A professional (/expert) camera?
…The problem is, using the Sony A7rii as a professional camera feels a lot harder than using it how I do, and not harder in a way that makes it more rewarding, harder in a way that just leaves me frustrated and a little confused. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how I use it, this camera just doesn’t feel to me like it’s designed to be used as professional camera. Trying to use it as one feels like your fighting against a very strong tide of automation and superfluous features – some of which I will come back to in a moment. All this superfluous function is born out of the fact that where it’s not designed just for the professional, it’s actually a camera that’s designed to be all things to all photographers. To a greater or lesser extent, this feels a little like it begins with the lowest common denominator.
A Dad camera?
Unfortunately, at its core, the Sony A7Rii is a bit of a feature packed Dad cam! Conceptually, I explained what I think a Dad cam is in this post about a 90’s Samsung, but in brief, it’s a camera designed to appeal to the “Dad”. As I explain in that post, the Dad is the show-off guy who wants something that’s the best, but because he has no knowledge of a subject, can only guess what best by what has the highest value and highest levels of functionality, including of course lots of auto modes. In the case of the £3000 all singing, all dancing Sony A7Rii, this is visible in the vast swathes of automation built into it and the fact that is does pretty much everything(!!) you could imagine a camera doing.
Unfortunately, this includes what I am going to call the “mega-hyper-superfluous”. Mega-hyper-superfluousness(ness) is a concept I have needlessly, unnecessarily and undeniably quite stupidly invented to further and in greater depth describe the core principle on which these cameras are designed and were created (incidentally, it’s impossible to describe mega-hyper-superfluousness(ness) without being needlessly verbose!)
I’ve talked about this countless times on this blog, it’s something I usually describe a “complicated down design”. As I’ve alluded to, the idea of this design approach is basically to make a thing that does all of the things that a thing of its type could possibly need to do – almost regardless of whether or not these things will ever be used. Whilst there are a lot of features in this camera that feel like this to me, there is one that really quite readily illustrates my point:
The Sony A7rii has a mode called “automatic autofocus” – and no it’s not the 1st of April. Even the name for it is ridiculous. Fortunately for me, the use of the same word twice, just goes to support my point about hyper-mega-superfluousnessness…
Automatic autofocus is a mode that is designed to make the decision for you as to whether or not you want the camera to single-shot autofocus or continuous autofocus. Now I don’t swear often on this blog – and that’s despite basically being a potty mouth in real life – but seriously now, what the fuck…? What possible use is this? Is it for people who don’t know what type of autofocus they need and when? If so why are they spending £3k on a camera? Or is it for people who are too lazy to switch between the two modes? Or something else I can’t fathom?
I’ve probably taken half a million photos in my career so far, maybe more. I’ve even shot motorsports and newly-wed couples being showered in confetti as they walk toward me. Both these types of shooting situations, and no doubt a few more have led me to decide continuous AF is worth a try, but really it’s only been of debatable use to me. I’m also very quick to switch it off after as with more static subjects it tends to do more harm than good. So what and how is this AAF going to bring to the table? The crazy thing is, the one time I did use it I’d switched it on by accident, and it didn’t work. Missed focus shots made me go delving into the menu to find out if I’d set something wrong…
In my mind, the only real function this Automatic AF has is to attract the dads who want to know they have all the functions under the sun, and possibly those who lack the technique or understanding to know better.
A Video camera?
What’s really mind boggling is that once you’ve grasped this over complication in terms of its attractiveness to the lowest common denominator, it’s also designed to be attractive to the video professional. As I mentioned earlier in the post the Sony A7Rii has in-camera 4k video, this alone is impressive really, but it also has “s-log2” picture profile things and zebraing and a digital zoom and whole other video-majiggers that escape me a bit, but James our video guy at work gets way overexcited by.
Now, as much as I moan, I probably wouldn’t be without this video function now I have it. We’ve put together some really nice looking video using these cameras… but you should see my face when I’m trying to undo all the modes James sets after he’s finished with the camera… it’s simply phenomenal just how many options there are in this thing.
A lack of true purpose
This all translates into a camera that to shoot it as a professional photographer feels a little like you’re shooting it against its will. It’s not that it wants to be a dad cam or a video camera, it’s just that it is both of these things and tries to be professional camera all at the same time too. Unfortunately, it’s through this over specification that I would and could never describe the Sony A7Rii as a professional spec tool. A professional camera works with you and aid your approach! This thing does almost the opposite – and this is simply because it’s not possible for a gadget this small to provide all of this function properly.
Too small, and too many bucking futtons
I wrote a post for Ilford about this not so long ago. You can have a read of that post here, but the general gist of it is that the compound effect of over-automation and over-specification is a huge increase in buttons and complication of design. The problem the Sony faces is that at the same time as trying to be compact, it does so many things for so many different types of user there could never be enough buttons to properly accommodate all the functionality when combined with how people might like to use it all. The result is that it has 4 ‘c’ buttons that don’t have set functions, and an entire customisable ‘fn’ quick access sub-menu.
I look back at my Nikon days and remember the joys specific buttons for everything I felt like I needed. I suspect in fact, that my Nikon D3 had just as many buttons if not more than the Sony A7Rii. But alongside being big enough to accommodate them properly, the Nikon had features designed for people who knew what they were doing as professional photographers. As such, it was a professional camera for professional photographers and nothing more. Features like rear-button-AF and exposure lock buttons that were right there under you thumb gave a sense that as a professional photographer the D3 was designed for you. These were dedicated function buttons, with useful features that came easily to hand. Ok, I’ll admit, some did have slight customisation options, but at least they were labeled well and the variety of option available to each button made sense to the labelling of the button.
The Sony has buttons that are just labelled ‘C1’ ‘C2’ etc. and they just feel plonked wherever there is space on the body with seemingly little thought to ergonomics or what the button might actually be useful for given its position on the body of the camera. Of course, it’s hard not to admit that there’s a lot to be said for setting a camera up to work exactly how you like it, but in use, having unlabelled ‘C’ buttons remains confusing almost no matter how long you spend with a camera.
What’s even more frustrating is that some of the functions can’t be assigned to ‘C’ buttons or the ‘Fn’ menu. Take for example the silent shooting mode or the mode that switches the viewfinder between showing the effect of the camera’s settings and just showing a bright picture, or the mode that stops the viewfinder switching to eye-level from the screen. All of these are buried deep in the menu, yet for me are settings I personally feel I need to access regularly. The customisable buttons and menu can be set some weird and wonderful things, but for some reason, not these three important-to-me functions, and there’s loads more that can’t be set too, loads! Where and why they drew this arbitrary line between what can and can’t be customised I have no idea, but it frustrates the hell out of me!
And then finally, my last bugbear is the stuff that’s missing. Even my aforementioned 1994 Samsung ECX1 has a time lapse mode. Not the Sony A7Rii. Nope, instead you have to connect the camera to the Internet, access an App Store and download a time lapse app for £7.99. As if I haven’t paid enough? Ok, I’m sort of being facetious here – I know I can’t have it both ways. It can’t have just all the features I want and none of the others! But again, why and where was this arbitrary line drawn between what features were needed as part of this camera and those that would be downloadable costed optional extras. I mean for fuck’s sake, how is “automatic autofocus” more useful than an interval timer…?!? Again facetious; personally, I’d rather have neither mode cluttering my cameras menus, but the fact that this camera even inspires the question goes some way to emphasise the lunacy of it all.
Final thoughts (skip to the end…)
The Sony A7Rii can never be everything to everyone. No camera can. The problem is, it tries, and through its incredible effort to offer something for everyone, it feels like it’s purpose as just a simple camera is lost, or at very least highly diluted.
Of course, it’s not the only digital camera that suffers huge over complication of design. Even the few-year-old Nikon D3 that I praised by comparison earlier in the post is vastly over featured when compared to even the most complex of film cameras. For better or worse, camera tech is still largely speaking on a function-additive trajectory that is hard to see an end of in the current landscape of available gear.
Of course, there are exceptions to this. Fuji for example, make very intuitive cameras that are quite heavily focused on just being stills cameras. So why do I shoot a Sony and not a Fuji then? Quite simply, the Sony offers my company the best bang-for-buck. As a multidiscipline photographer who runs an agency that also offers video, the Sony A7Rii offers everything I need in one box. This of course pretty much rounds the circle of the love-hate dichotomy that I started this post with. The Sony A7Rii does all that I need it to do and way more, and by that merit its hard not to have a strong appreciation for it. But at the same time, it still manages to represent everything I dislike in modern camera equipment. It’s farcically overcomplicated, and entirely uninspiring to use. So much so, that I couldn’t even bring myself to use it in any meaningful way to populate this post with photos that haven’t been taken for work or as a job. In fact, it’s taken months for me to finally get around to finishing this post – I even found the damn thing massively uninspiring to write about…
So where does this leave me…? Well, in one sense trapped. I’ve invested in the system, it’s become the backbone of my photo/video services at F8, I have lenses for it that I love, and actually James and Janine who use it at work think it’s great. Of course, in another sense it’s actually inspired something positive in me… It partly inspired in me a greater appreciation for the ‘uncomplicated camera‘, which in turn helped me commit to the decision to buy a Leica M9, a camera I now use instead of the Sony A7rii as much as I can get away with!
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173 thoughts on “Sony A7Rii review – A superb farce of a camera”
I have an A7ii. I hardly ever use it. It just never has inspired me. I’ve thought about selling it, and I’ve even gone so far as to list it once. Occasionally, I will pick it up and shoot some frames with it. It is small, but feels rather clunky in the hand. The shutter noise is just awful. The menus are badly organized. But, man, those files are sharp, clear and have awesome DR. Low light? Not a problem…except…the digital noise pattern is really ugly. Not film-like at all. The resulting photos overall feel plasticy to me. Sharp, technically correct plastic. I know others really love this camera, but to me, Leica, Fuji and Olympus cameras produce much nicer photos, with very pleasing rendering.
So I put the A7ii away again, and wonder why I still keep it.
(It’s up for sale again)
Funnily enough, I found Fuji images to be too plastic for my taste.
Good luck with the sale! 🙂
Well, for the Fuji files, the right software is important. Lightroom isn’t so good. Best I’ve seen is Iridient.
Oh dear, is there a digital camera that DOESN’T feel that way? 🙂
Still up for sale?
Are our cameras supposed to inspire us? They are means to capturing the imagination that flows from within.
I have interests in Industrial design and user experience, and by that merit find cameras interesting and indeed inspiring as things. As for a thing for taking photos, for letting the inspiration flow, its simple cameras that do that for me. Have a look at the link at the bottom of the post. This camera doesn’t do that for me, and so I guess what I’m saying is that it both blocks my inspiration, and doesn’t appeal or inspire me as a price of Industrial design.
Dude, your “dad camera” sectiondescribes the exact reason I’m not getting an a7rii, now that rumors of an a7iii are becoming more solid. As a “dad camera” all star, it’s been killing me to see xt2s and 6diis out by the soccer field, as I’ve been limping along on a t5i for years, while I upgrade my lenses by secretly taking to-be-sold home photos for a real estate’s friend of mine so as not to alert my wife to the absurd prices if fast glass. My dad plan is to get the a7riii next summer and to swap Canon for Sony or Zeiss on my 24-70, but get a metabones for my fast fifty and 70-200f2.8, which is more sexy than my wife was at 19. That way, I can say stuff like, yeah, “I really want to see if Sony’s 70-200F2.8 II gets a little bit sharper”. I’m such an a’hole and that section describes my precise motivations perfectly. Also, the size and look of that Zeiss 55f1.8 is just perfect for shooting at kid graduations while trying to pretend I’m just being casual about it. I can’t wait.
Just linked this article to my nephew, who advises me on tech and FaceTime’d while he read it. Laughing his ass off. His wife is a “boudoir” and product photographer in LA and she thinks my lazy, vain compulsions around photography are idiotic. She went to a real arts school and takes this stuff seriously, but I have a crazy good photo of a big horn sheep or something I got in Glacier from the passengers seat of the car with the 70-2002.8 and a teleconveter with a rented 5Diii which is better than anything she’s ever taken. So, she can go pound sand. I love that technology can help me pass off mild interest as cathartic passion.
Funny that you mentioned you’ve taken 500,000 photos in your career. That’s the shutter rating on the a7riii! I’ll be finding a way to mention that constantly when I get my a7riii.
This all made me laugh out loud! It sounds like you and the Sony will make a great partnership… Get that automatic autofocus setting switched on and wave the fucker around on continuous shooting mode. Something good is bound to happen! You know the A9 does 20 frames a second right? Maybe that would be the camera for you… it’s quite a bit more expensive too!
I had a hand-me-down 20D when my Dad upgraded to the 40. Having used that Eos for the best part of a decade and now having a very competent D3300, I can’t help but love one and merely respect the other. In my mind, for the type of shooting I do, I could absolutely get behind a modern equivalent of the Canon EF-M. Just a full frame sensor, manual focus, PASM and no video. Just a digital photography camera with nothing else. I don’t take video on my phone, lot alone using a DSLR, but I’m entering Dad Cam territory on my Nikon.
My biggest joy since I got that camera was using my Helios 44 on the 20D, playing with the lens flare and bokeh. The Nikon just takes a great picture. I feel I make the great picture on the Canon. That’s a big difference.
I shot with a 30D for several years, which was only very slightly upgraded from the 20D. It was a great camera, so solid with all the controls you need falling right under your fingers. Although my Fuji mirrorless is better in every objective way, it feels like a tool that I use whereas 30D was like an extension of me.
Beautifully tongue-in-cheek. Like watching a Monty Python skit…
Hank.. are you still interested in selling it?? If it is not already gone?
Hi. How much do want for your Sony A7II? I am interested in fairly priced a7II.
It’s very interesting to read your opinions on the A7 Rii, I can only sympathise as an A7 user, having had no experience of Sony’s latter ‘enhancements’ to this range I can’t comment, but there’s no lack of problems with my camera which frustrate me. Mainly, it’s the seemingly impossible task of turning off the rear screen, even when it is turned off in the settings it stays on, Sony just black it out, so it still uses battery. You can set it just to use the viewfinder and not the rear screen, but when you want to view your shots you can’t – you must use the viewfinder (unless I’m just bonkers I’ve never been able to fix this). Fuji got this right with the X100!
The reason I do shoot with it though is the quality of the files and the lenses are wonderfully sharp, and importantly it’s full frame, which is something I wanted. Sony have to be applauded for this, for offering a full frame mirrorless camera which is actually quite affordable, and the fact it’s 35mm is why I keep using it. That and the fact you can mount practically any lens on it with an adapter and it works great. With something like the voigtlander VM-E you can use M mount lenses and focus closer than 70cm, which is also pretty amazing.
It’s just hopefully going to be only a matter of time before other manufacturers catch on.
I’m hoping the Konost camera project is successful! That thing has a lot of potential…
That is interesting and I have subscribed to it.
‘Tis, isn’t it… I have too 🙂
Yes, there is a way to have the viewfinder/screen switch and stay off, not just dark, on the A7Rii. In setup menu #2, page three, under FINDER/MONITOR set to “Monitor(Manual)”. Now pick a custom key, and set it to “Finder/Monitor Set.” When you have the monitor selected, it will not autoswitch to the viewfinder. When the viewfinder is selected, it will only activate when the proximity sensor in the eyecup detects something, otherwise it stays off until needed. The back screen is indeed off, and not in the “darkscreen” mode. You can verify this by switching to the viewfinder, and then shutting off the camera. No cahnge in screen brightness like there is with “darkscreen”. Hope this helps, it certainly improved my usability.
Thanks very much, I will try that today! 🙂
I was unable to find the “Finder/Monitor Set” option for my custom key. The only semi-related option is “Deactivate monitor” which just dims the monitor.
Great review, great blog. Your writing amongst others has encouraged me to investigate film and so far I am loving it. I shoot mainly Pentax k mount lenses via an adapter (combination of quality, price and availability) on my A7ii. That translates well for me to shooting Pentax film SLRs too. I am now meandering down the path of fixed lens rangefinder and compacts with a severe dose of gear acquisition syndrome.
I agree with the frustrations of not switching that bloody screen off, though thankfully a 3rd party eye piece has made the eye (chest, hand or anything remotely close) viewfinder sensor less sensitive. Battery life is appalling, worse when using apps (sky hdr is fab) the rest not so fab.
I usually shoot manual lenses in AP and have recently discovered that if I set the EV compensation to the unused front or rear dial, the actual compensation dial to 0 and fix the ISO to whatever the circumstances demand, then that assigned EV dial has 5ev not the usual 3ev compensation either way. I prefer this over having auto ISO. I feel it at least gives me control back…essentially it functions as a shutter speed dial.
I also wonder, given what you said about down sizing your images for you clients, if maybe you could have saved a few quid with an A7ii as apposed to the A7rii!?
Thanks again for your blog and reviews…..Oh any chance of reviewing something a little cheaper….(not nasty). Something in between Leica and canny camera territory.
The irony is, I wouldn’t undo the file size now I have it … If the whole camera makes me feel lazy, I might as well have high resolution…
Any suggestions as to what camera would you like to see a review about?
An excellent, almost poetic review, Hamish.
Like you I moved to Sony from a Nikon D800. I still have it, it’s just so predictable and reliable. But my Sony A7II can take my Leica M lenses, which the D800 cannot. So my A7II is my go-to camera with a Leica M9 for the simple camera experience.
My first Sony mirrorless was the A7. I struggled with it on assignment in Venice, shooting fashion. The autofocus wasn’t just slow, it was non-existent. I shot far too many out of focus images. The A7II is much better.
I think the reason why the A7 series is so strange to former DSLR users is that Sony’s mirrorless design team has no DSLR experience. When Sony took over the Minolta range of DSLRs, the Minolta design team moved across but they have been confined to designing Sony DSLRs and (D)SLTs. There is apparently no cross-fertilisation of ideas between the two design teams.
This is a real pity, because the Sony Alpha DSLRs and (D)SLTs are an easy switch from Nikon or Canon. In contrast, the A7 mirrorless series is somewhat alien. I think that’s because the NEX/A7 design team learnt its trade with cameras like the DSC-F717 and F828, feature-rich consumer cameras designed for the enthusiastic amateur (no professional worth their salt would ever have used one). The problem is that the A7 series was designed by people with the same mindset, in fact mostly the same people.
The A7 series is feature-rich to the point of massive over-complication, but its USP for the pro shooter is its magnificent all-round performance and (especially) the sublime image quality. That’s why my A7II is always my first choice.
But it’s a love/hate relationship. Love the performance, hate the interface!
“Love the performance, hate the interface!” – That’s the summary for sure!
Is that fact about the bridge camera designers?
Hamish, are you incapable of learning an interface? I’ve graduated from a Canon 7s film camera I swore I would never replace to an A7S II for video and low-light and an A7r II for stills that need Photoshop zoom. I don’t find the interface daunting, and all my old Canon EF 35mm glass works perfectly with a Metabones adaptor.
Not incapable, I just have an aversion to UI that feels unfinished and disorganised – I have just bought the 3rd gen cameras, they are much better
How in the world did you not plop that fabulous 50mm C Sonnar on the Sony with the VM-E close focus adapter? M lenses on the Sonys are half the fun!
I did… Though, I have a cheap adapter… I did expect to enjoy this lens adapting more. I used to. i just find the manual focusing a faff compared to RF focusing which feels so natural to me now.
You know what will probably put off a lot of people from reading this article? (Aside from the toxicly bating title?)
It’s your admission, whether you meant it or not, that you “love to hate” this camera, and “hate to love it.” Which, essentially means, you have nothing but hate for it. There doesn’t appear to be any yin to the yang, so why invest time reading a one-sided opinion. The internet is full of nothing but.
I don’t mind putting people off. I don’t write tonne agreed with as such, just to state my opinion. Which despite my distaste, is still pretty balanced for those who do take the time to read it.
Totally agree with that view of the Sony experience. It’s more like using a computer than a camera. I used to be a Nex owner and whilst it took some great photos i too was stuck in auto everything. It’s for that reason i switched to Fuji X and eventually Leica M, and ultimately found this great site!
So in a roundabout way, through Sony providing a shitty user experience you ended up as a reader of my site. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on them…
Cheers Rod 🙂
Interesting read. I do agree with most of the points here. As many film shooters I do own A7RII along film camera, because it’s hard to do without digital body these days. Yes its more frustrating and more complicated than fuji X-T1 that I previously used. But I’m able to use same lenses as on my film body and they are not in crop mode and without speedboosters that bring complications.
I found a way to keep Sony a bit more inspiring and shoot less in “cheating lazy auto mode” – I use only manual focus lenses with aperture ring, this way I still maintain quite good control and haptics, at least for my left hand. 🙂 Luckily I’m hobby shooter, not pro, so I don’t have to be very fast and I can get away without autofocus.
But even that doesn’t make this camera as entertaining as it could be because of mentioned in article messy controls, responsiveness and too clean and to perfect files. At the moment I’m getting ready to revive usage of my A7RII – will equip myself with few old imperfect soviet lenses and Mastin labs film emulation presets – well see if I’ll be able to downgrade picture perfection up to my taste and bring excitement back.
Anyway- I think somebody should do evf equipment full frame camera orientated to stills without all those bells and whistles.
I think they should too. I’m pinning possibly a bit too much hope on the Konost camera project. Time will tell.
Funnily enough, I yearned for a full frame digital with a short flange back distance to mount all my old lenses on for years. Now there is such a thing, I find myself enjoying he old cameras the lenses belong to more. I annoy myself.
I think we’re in a similar boat mate.. I was looking at a Phase One system, and found that you can’t borrow money to buy a house and a camera at the same time.. (derp). Someone told me that Sony made the sensors for Nikon and Phase anyway, so why not try them out? I’m a 5d series shooter previously, shooting a lot of lifestyle, architecture, people etc and I’ve always loved how my friends who shoot Nikon’s stuff looks. And I liked the idea that the Sony could be a travel camera, and coupled with the 35mm Zeiss, be a pretty similar rig to my fav film point and shoot camera, the Contax T3.
Also, more and more I’ve been having trouble with shitty Canon lens quality control.. the 50mm L 1.2 I used to own literally could not autofocus. Amazing.
I’m constantly blown away by how incredible the Zeiss lenses are.. The 55 1.8 is one of the sharpest lenses I think I’ve ever used. It’s insane. The 85mm is unbelievable. The 25 is SO sharp. The 35, too.. And it fits in your pocket (if you’ve got a big pocket). The camera has been working well with my existing Canon lenses.. The 17mm TSE talks well to it, as does the 70-200. Even the 24-70 seems to be fine.. (All via the Sigma adaptor).
The latitude of the files is fantastic.. What Capture One is capable of pulling from ARW files simple rules. The art stuff that I shoot now with it is just incredible. Printed huge, the detail is stunning. Absolutely gorgeous.
However, the whole thing feels a bit like driving a Mini with a V8. There’s so much power, but the camera just doesn’t seem to be able to keep up with itself. Comparing it to driving some boring old sedan, (i.e. a Canon DSLR), which might not be as cool or fun, it’ll get you there, it’s reassuring, and you just know what it’s going to do.
My biggest problems with it are manual focus by wire (i hate it, and can never really get it to do what i want, especially when focussing in low light) and the fact that I bumped the USB port the other day, and now it’s constantly malfunctioning, and has to go back to get repaired (which will take a MONTH). Also, the USB port is USB 2. For a camera that produces 42mp files.. A tremendous oversight. The buffer is so slow.. Even if they made uncompressed RAW available, it’s useless, as it makes the camera even slower than it already is.
It’s such a bummer, almost perfect. It’ll be interesting to see what they do next.
Haha, yeah! I think you might be right, I agree with all of that to the letter. I bloody love the Zeiss lenses. I’ve recently bought the 85 batis, and re-bought the Zeiss branded Sony 35. Like you I also have the 50 1.8, and am on a path to the 25. They are all awesome. Especially since they do the Zeiss colour/contrast/pop thing …
and your right, I have high hopes for the next gen… erg… 😉
I’d love to see what the Sony G Master stuff is like. I’m totally sold on proper manual focus capability now..
I tried a friends Zeiss 20mm MF the other day, the way it jumps in to manually focus throws me RIGHT off; BUT it was so much easier than focus by wire. Hmmm.
It’s all about Zeiss lenses for me. I think the g master lenses might almost be too “good”
I never was a professional photographer. But that makes me question about resolution.
I like my medium format negatives. But not often made from them really big prints.
Larger formats aren’t just about resolution though. The look of the images, the different sense of depth of field, the smaller relative grain size… there’s loads of reasons to shoot bigger formats outside of potential print size
Yes, suse. But digitals are another question
Yeah but the flexibility the extra resolution gives you is amazing. VERY often this allows me to shoot a little looser and give the client a variety of crop options. VERY useful.
I completely agree!
The best camera for me is the one that gets the most invisible between me and what I am shooting. To me that camera is the Sony R1, silent, without motors and so few controls that I was able to use it just by touch in darkness.
I had a Canon EF (got stolen with the Sony R1) camera but I couldn’t make it work, although the shutter sound was disturbing to me, so I got a Samsung ECX-1 and although it requires to read the manual to makes it do what I want actually I have much more fun than with the Canon… but to know if I am actually focused encouraged me to buy another film camera: a Canon Eos 7 (elan 7ne/ 33v) and I am loving it, it’s almost as invisible as the Sony R1 (almost)
To replace my stolen Sony R1 I tried in a store a fujifilm x30 and a Sony RX100. The former was similar to the Fujifilm X-e1 with a fujinon 35mm f1.4 I had a time, although it resembles a film camera it was by far the most digital (in a bad way) I’ve ever used, I needed always to go to menus (sometimes seemed I needed more clickes than with the Samsung ECX-1) never letting me forget I am using a camera instead of justing grabbing what I was seeing, something that never happened with the Sony R1; and the Sony RX100, well, it was similar to the Sony a5000 I had also a time, a camera that I could never feel like a camera, more like a kind of cell phone with bloatware and yet I think they had the defect of my Sony R1, the colors need work. So I ended purchasing a simpler Sigma DP2 (the original one of 4 mega pixels) this because it’s complicated to buy batteries to the R1, and it was a bit big and problematic to run software able to open the raw files. The Sigma is nice but it lacks a screen as the top mounted in the Sony R1 (feels like medium format a bit and I used it this way to street and gardens) but outside that to me it’s fine and enough to just take photographs.
I think it’s a curse these advances in processing that makes cameras far more complicated than needed and lenses relying in digital corrections than in true optics properties.
Yes “advances”… it’s an interesting word
Though I am not an A7Rii, I am an RX1Rii shooter – which is really your camera without the “complexity” of having to change lenses. Ha ha. I’ve only been shooting it a few months and curse the menu systems (always have), but I have learned to tame the beast by treating it (90% of the time) as a full-on manual camera – at that point, it’s just a simple body with auto-nothing – and it does its job well. (I also don’t shoot at 42MP because I can’t see that need – 21 is more than enough). When I am at something with quickly changing light and lots of motion – only then – I take advantage of the computer system and jump into AF, auto-ISO with min/max limits and A mode shooting. It seems to judge those scenes pretty well most of the time, though I do still get a handful of badly over/underexposed shots. I enjoy that I can get dual-use out of it 1) a methodical, purposeful manual digital camera with crazy resolution, and 2) a powerful P&S that sometimes outsmarts itself.
I do wonder sometime how I would find the a7rii if it was my only digital camera, and that I used it for personal and photography. You shoot and favour similar gear to me…
Very well written and if thats you writing un-insprired then crikey dude…. It does inspire me over simpler cameras or DLRS because it gives me options but everything else you said is very true. Amazing and insane. My one other request os a smaller RAW option. Still the A73 will be out soon no doubt so the A74 should be out by June ….. 🙂
Cheers Andy… yeah, I do waffle on a bit, I’m the first to admit it. Have a search for my Zeiss 50mm ZM Sonnar review… that’s me inspired… 😉
It’s the a7r10 I’m looking forward to, I hear it’s going to make your breakfast, and lunch!
Hi Hamish, great work, as always.
I have been searching for a non nonsense digital camera for quite some time and I thought one of these Sonys might just be the winner but now I don’t think so.
I’m coming from owning an M6, which I have a love-hate relationship with (I’d prefer an M7), a MjuII, Pentax MV and Ricoh GRDII. From that list I’m sure you can tell that I prefer -as much of us do- uncomplicated cameras.
What would you recommend outside of Leica digi M territory? I can’t justify that level of investment right now. The Ricoh is an amazing bit of kit but a bit more oomph would be lovely!
Probably a fuji – I picked up an xproii the other day, found it almost instinctual to use. I have had an x100 and xpro before, but even without that experience they are pretty logical camera. (I just dont like the small sensor – but that’s possibly just me)
I was only a few paragraphs in and thought “I can see why Hamish wrote that previous post about the lure of the uncomplicated camera – as self prescribed therapy after using his A7 for extended periods!”
I’m debating getting a used DLSR to use my vintage M42 and C/Y lenses with (I already have a NEX3 for the same, but want something with a VF and better handling), and am seeking that balance between capable vs overcomplicated, a camera vs a gadget, versatile for my needs yet invisible in use…
Canon 5d classic? – cheap now, work with m42 lenses. Not the best UI, but pretty good, and quite simple.
The 5D is tempting as it’s full frame so would eliminate crop factor issues. The second version is even more tempting, but it’s beyond my current budget. The most likely candidate is probably a 40D, which seems a good balance of simplicity versus capability, has a decent VF, and is very affordable these days.
The 5D, rightly called a classic is a good bet. It’s full frame, very affordable if you can find one in decent condition. The only thing I didn’t like on it was the LCD screen was utter rubbish, but when you look at the files it produces you forgive it that, understandable given the time it came out. There is some kind of magic with that camera, the sensor I think is a bit different and I gives it a very natural quality.
I’d agree with that!
Neil, you’ve made the 5D sound very tempting. What’s the viewfinder like? One major reason I’m looking for an alternative digital to my Sony NEX is not the quality of image (the Sony I’m really pleased with) but having a viewfinder so the experience is more connected and immersive. Coming from SLRs with great viewfinders I’m concerned the 5D might be really pokey and disappointing? I don’t care much about the screen – the NEX has a great screen, but I’m looking for a good VF experience, as I said, close(r) to my beloved film bodies like the Contax 139 Quartz and 167MT, so I can use the same C/Y and M42 lenses I use on those cameras on a DSLR with a similar-ish experience.
Aps-c though, right? That’s the sacrifice I just can’t make.
Maybe an obvious question Hamish, but what for you are the major reasons you would only use a full frame digital now, not APS-C?
I plan to use anything I get with my vintage M42 and C/Y lenses and not have any modern AF lens, so the obvious plus is they’d all be at that natural focal length with no crop factor.
Just like my 50 to be a 50… That’s it really…
Hi Dan, the viewfinder is big, like the SLRs you’ll remember. It doesn’t have a lot of af points, probably, 9 but that means it’s quite uncluttered. You can also get different precision focussing screens for it specifically if you’re using lenses faster than f2.8. I think it’s still a very viable camera, it’s full frame, the shutter has a funny sound two, like a snap and a high pitched wine but that’s part of its charm.
I used the 5D mk ii a bit too but it just didn’t have the magic of the 5D, even though on paper it’s obviously a better spec.
Neil, thanks for the extra info about the 50D. After looking at prices, it’s beyond my current budget. In the end I’ve gone for a Sony (ironically!), an a350. I tried a Canon 40D in a shop and didn’t much like it, then spotted a couple of Sonys they had. The a350 has a decent viewfinder and a tiltable screen, and is just the right size/weight I was looking for, ie compact but it still has good handling and feels like you’re holding a camera, not a gadget. Essentially it’ll be similar in performance to my NEX (which I’m happy with), but in the shape of a “proper” camera, and with a decent VF, which were the main two shortcomings of the NEX, for me.
Maybe a year or two down the line I’ll be looking at digital FF options and return to consider the 50D…
I can’t help feeling Hamish the best camera for you (and indeed for a lot of us) is the Leica M-D. This is in my opinion the purist approach to a digital camera yet conceived. It should have been released years ago rather than this path we’ve been on of constant enhancements and upgrades to cameras, giving us more and more bloated features but forgetting the essence of what a camera is. When the M9 came out I thought Leica have done it, they basically brought out an M with a full frame sensor, and that was all we needed really! I do like the idea of the M-D as just having no screen makes it more elegant, more like using a 35mm film M which is a wonderful, zen like experience for me. If I had the money I’d get an M-D and probably a 50mm ZM planar and that would be all I’d need, I know that deep inside. For my Sony though, I’ve got the 28mm Sony lens which is OK and the 85mm batis which is shockingly good, and some adapters for various other bits and bobs, like my Nikon 55mm macro AIS – that’s good fun on the A7 – but the whole thing is more like a tool in the negative sense that it’s a faff to use but ultimately you can do a lot with it and it will produce nice results.
You might enjoy my review of the M60 – http://www.35mmc.com/02/07/2015/leica-m-edition-60/ 😉
I have both enjoyed and mused! Every time I start looking at your reviews I get twitchy and want to start buying stuff!
I have been told I am a bad influence … 😉
You’ve influenced me in buying an M2 and lovely type 2 50mm summicron – what did I do before xmas? Panicked and sold them both. Told myself to just use my A7 and get a good lens for it, so I ended up with the Sony 28mm f2 (meh…it’s ok) and recently I’ve bought the Zeiss 85mm batis which is mind blowing. I’m still hankering after shooting film with a rangefinder again so I’ve ended up this week getting an R3A and 40mm Nokton classic. Oh and I got a 50 1.4 AI for my Nikon FM2, why I don’t know I just wanted one but I never shoot with the Nikon. This is all from getting inspired and reading things on your site! So thanks for that!!! GRRR.
I’m still thinking about the M2 and regretting selling it, absolutely beautiful camera to use, it’s just with it having no meter and I wasn’t confident enough without my handheld meter, (which I use for my Hasselblad), I’ve had an M6 before which was pretty much perfect, I’ve had the M2, now I’ve got a Voigtlander again (my 2nd one, I used to have a Bessa R2A, sold it to fund the M6). I was getting frustrated with paying for film and then trying to find somewhere which would dev+scan it reasonably. I guess this comes back to why I’m so interested in this thread, I have what is a very capable digital camera in the Sony with a great lens, but as mentioned before the interface frustrates me. I guess the only thing left is to look at an M9 oh god…
“Sony 28mm f2 (meh…it’s ok) and recently I’ve bought the Zeiss 85mm batis which is mind blowing.”
Couldn’t agree more with both of those summaries – eventually, I am going to see my 28 and get the batis 25 for a 25,35,55 & 85 line up!
It does sound to me like the M9 would suit you … It suits me very well indeed! Review coming in a couple of months … 😉
After some contemplation I found that I have second thought regarding a7II. Even I call in less inspirational than my film cameras, more complicated, but still – its one of the best from brave new digital world. Yes its deeply personal. Thing is that I complain about Sony, but still i investigated , bought it and use it. And I don’t even look at full frame DSLR’s (even I’m Pentaxian, I didn’t considered K1) because of bulk and issue, that if I’m with digital cam – I’ll take an ovf. I would never buy digital FF DSLR’s these days.
Leica has some attractive sides, but as I’m details and nature man – there are two aspects that are stop for me – close focus ability and low angle shots. And, off course, leica’s astrophysics of pricing.
What I’m trying to tell here that even without those bells and whistles Sony A7 is still right sized and practically versatile camera.
Now there is one more small step for sony to take – take off those fcuking bels and annoying bling whistles. 🙂
But I afraid that its not the way of sony unless they decide to make niche model targeted at leica market. And they could. And they should. 🙂
You are dead right on this. IF manufacturers like Sony would actually take a step back and look at what works with the cameras they make and what isn’t needed they’d do something great. It’s a case of breaking it down and thinking what do people actually need to use a camera. Some of the stuff, like a tiltable high quality screen, being able to zoom in on it to check focus, focus peaking for manual lenses, electronic viewfinders, these are all good ideas and work well, but just keep it simple and practical. There is a display on my A7 where you can specify the back screen to have parameters on, this is woefully complex, the only things I’m looking at on it are shutter speed, aperture and ISO, but it gives me zillion other things which I don’t need to know at that point, I’ve already set the camera to RAW in the menu, why do I need to be told constantly I’m shooting in RAW?
I can see a time where cameras are completely customisable. When all screens, menus and functions can be specified. With haptic feedback like in the iPhone 7 and MacBook touch pads even buttons could be customised, and more importantly labelled. I don’t know how we get there from the mess we are in, but I’m hopeful we will get there. Eventually. I could make my own simple camera.
Maybe they could include a kind of minimalist mode, either programmed within the camera to enable the very basic functions, and to show just the very basics on the screen, or that was customisable by the user to select show just the basic info they required. Then once this was set, you just needed to turn the camera on and press a single button to enable the minimalist mode and enjoy shooting without the constant distraction of buttons, options, menus etc. Of course the camera would otherwise have to be enjoyable to hold and shoot with (the basic ergonomics etc), or it wouldn’t matter what modes it did or didn’t have!
I imagine most of us, once we have a camera set up, shoot in a similar way and use a similar small set of functions and settings, and all the features within a complex modern camera aren’t so much there to cover all the needs of ONE user, but all the needs of ANY possible user., and therefore appeal to as many people as possible when they’re selling it.
We are heading toward much higher levels of customisation I think. That would be the ideal for me, but on this camera it wouldn’t solve the physical issues of badly labelled buttons etc.
The ‘any possible user’ approach is exactly the crux of the issue!
Yes, “one size fits all” becomes “one size fits no-one”.
It’s like when they used to advertise compilation CDs one the basis that there’s at least one or two tracks that everyone will like (“there really is something for everyone!”). The problem is no-one wants to buy a CD of 20 tracks to just listen to just one or two! Hence why music buying had greatly evolved into people just buying the tracks they actually want.
As someone mentioned (probably you Hamish), Sony have the tech and know how to make incredible world beating cameras. They just need to think less about the tech and more about the basics. It reminds me of the story of how in the 70s Leica and Minolta collaborated to combine, in theory, the best German engineering with the best Japanese technology. Sony need a Leica equivalent to design the camera, then Sony provide the internal technology.
Or to take a classic old film body and insert some modern electronics. Now that WOULD be interesting…
“Mega-hyper-superfluousness(ness)” the most correct word for this world of ever-changing digital contraptions!
Thank you for that, and the article of course!
I’d like it to be in the OED by the end of 2020… somehow I doubt it, but #goals 😉
Very few digital cameras are attractive for me now. If any. I can’t do better photographs than with the own I own. More resolution maybe. So what.
Couldn’t agree more about the Nikon D3. Dedicated buttons. Built like a tank. Weather sealed. My last pro Nikon, having owned all its predecessors. And I do mean all (wanna see my original D1?). #realcamera
Would you believe, my D3 died whilst I was out taking photos of the Queen in the rain…
Best digital camera I’ve ever owned though…
I’m a dad and I love the thing*L*. Not perfect but what is. Good read! I’m was smiling and nodding my head throughout most of it. Still love it though. Enjoy your site and your instagram feed. Had me considering a lomo lc-wide. Thank you.
Thanks Chris! Only considering…? 😉
One of the worst reviews of any camera I’ve ever read. I wanted to gouge my eyes out whilst reading it, then wished I could turn back time to claim back the 10 minutes I wasted.
What’s wrong with you? You’re all over the place.
I moved from Nikon (D800) to the a7 series a few years ago, and never looked back.
The a7rii is currently the pinnacle in cameras right now. It does everything you need, and more, but you see this as a negative? Ridiculous.
Haha, thanks Mike, I do enjoy a bit of well rounded level headed constructive criticism. Ironically, your response to my review is quite similar to my response to the Sony…
I get the impression you’ve insulted someone’s favourite camera…
yeah… a sad world for some
Hamish. I agree with Mikey, here. Stop wasting your time with these characterful vintage film cameras. This site needs to change. Out with these silly Olympus Trip 35 reviews. In with the Canon 5D and Nikon blah. I want MTF charts for lenses too. Only review very, very ‘sharp’ lenses. They’re the best. (A camera shop told me, so it must be true). I want to know buffer speeds. You could even do a section on memory cards and how fast they are! Oh, the joy. Let’s make this website great again.
Hahahaha! Awesome … Maybe I should sell everything I own and just go Otus…?
And tell me your settings, I need to know your settings. Please God tell me your settings
Settings? Automatic-auto-auto! Obvs!
Think thats a pretty fair review. I jumped over from Canon when this was released-I dont have any issues with menus/buttons or even size of it, surprisingly I quite like the way it fits in my hand. There are things on this camera I love (tilt screen for one thing) and I would say that overall it has made my job so much more easy but my god there are days when I’m screaming at it. For starters, the hot shoe now has a fault where it automatically changes the apertaure and quite often the camera decides to reset/turn itself off and on again-usually when a client is peering over shoulder lol. Tech support are useless-Sony wont allow anyone else but Sony to service them and so It needs to be sent off, of which I was told-coud be anywhere up to 2months, obviously thats not ideal when you rely on that gear to pay your rent….. thats my only (two) gripes with it really, and most of it vanishes when I open up the files/and or they have saved my neck from a hard shoot. But i’ve had things i’ve liked/not liked about every camera-none are perfect I guess
I actually really like the way it sits in the hard too… they got that bit right, then forgot to think about how it would be used once in that hand. I know what you mean about opening the files too… I shot an NHS campaign in town yesterday, crap weather, but the Zeiss lenses have sooooo much pop. Just lovely!
“That camera does everything I need and more….I hate it!”
I’m about to buy an A7II o A7RII, so maybe not the review I wanted, but I think you express more of a personal frustation that just dissing the camera.
In car terms it’s a Subaru Outback, it does everything you can possibly need in a car, and more, but when you see a twisty bit or road…it’s not the car you want.
Extra marks for no walls pics, no charts, no f-series, no “look at the last 100 pixels of the bottom left-hand corner while shooting into the sun with a decentered lens”, no; it comes from your heart or maybe gut? (Here in Perú we’d say “un poco de hígado” [a bit of liver] when you’re angry])
The crazy thing is that, after buying the A7(R)II I want a film camera, mostly to remember the photogrphs I took as a kid and also because it’s a completely different feel, not better, possibly (being obejtctive) worse in almost every sense, but maybe like eating that street-vendor mystery-meat shawarma: it’s goooood.
You’ve missed a bit it’s more “this camera does everything and more, but feels like it does just as much to prevent me from doing it efficiently or in any way close to how I’d like … I can’t get on with it, as much as I’d love to be able to” 😉
Kind of using a (regular) can opener when you’re a leftie. You can do it, you open the can, but it’s not enjoyable.
Yep! Nice analogy!
… it’s possible, and the outcome is the same tasty food, but the process feels wrong!
You do know a bad workman always blames the tools right? 😉
Ironically, as I say in the post, the Sony way out performs my needs. I don’t take bad photos with it – quote the opposite – I just don’t enjoy taking them
I’m not a professional photographer just a hobbyist, so I’m out taking pictures to try and I guess create something personal and artistic which ultimately will be shared online via flickr or whatever, IF I really like the image I might even put it on my wall at home but they are few and far between! The thing for me then is more the experience and the joy of using the equipment to accomplish what I want to do artistically. You have summed it up there, it’s not enjoyable to take pictures with the A7.
“Mega-hyper-superfluousnessness” – what a fantastic term. You just described the typical SUV/crossover sold in the USA market to suburbanites who think they must have connectivity and every other electronic gadget that the engineers can invent on top of their 400 horsepower so that they can have a more rewarding commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Sigh…
Ha yeah… I think I described most white and brown goods too…
Interesting piece, for a number of reasons. I fully empathise with the challenges of a young camera system, with it being less than a year since I jumped across to Fuji full time. I got the 35mm F/1.4 lens a couple of months ago, which is a really special lens that renders with a beautiful quality that’s hard to describe and quite uncommon in digital gear. But being one of the original XF mount lenses, the AF is really quite slow. After several infuriating missed focuses, I’ve switched to back button focus and am having a much better hit rate. Fuji make this very easy, but it’s still a case of me adapting to the camera and that’s never ideal.
I shoot digital much in the way you describe, setting auto ISO with a minimum shutter speed. I concentrate on framing, composition and timing and let the camera handle the rest unless I want a particularly large or small aperture. I actually view it as a positive, as I’m focusing on what will make the best image and can trust the camera to handle the minutiae. It’s not as if I don’t get enough practice of that when shooting film. There’s a tendency among certain photographers to view shooting in manual as a mark of competence, but really I think the skill is in knowing when you can trust the camera and when you need to step in. With the Fuji though, that’s practically never. It just doesn’t seem to get caught out and that is one of a number of things that add up to make it quite a different experience to shooting my old Canon DSLR. That camera wasn’t that clever. It did need continuous adjustment, and the combination of snappy autofocus and design that favours ergonomics over compactness meant that it felt much more a part of me than the Fuji does. I take better shots with the Fuji though, and I wonder whether that’s because it’s forcing/enabling me to concentrate on the things that actually make a better shot (like film does). Or I could just be getting better, who knows.
I read an interesting article recently by Q. Oliver about his journey from Sony to Fuji to Leica, which raised some of the same points. He found the Sony a great workhorse, but the images a bit too clinical. He loved the images from the Fuji…until the sun went down. Although technically ‘ISO-less’, things end up a bit too flat if you have to push the Fuji files very far. The Leica was an improvement…but I felt like he was trying a bit too hard to justify how much it cost!
I think your point about Sony making the most sense commercially is a sound one, too. I know a few videographers and the hobbyists shoot with Canons or Nikons, but all the pros use Sony. Not sure why exactly, but they just seem to be more cost-effective and better workhorses. Fuji works for me because I don’t often shoot things that move and I almost never shoot video (amusingly, the one time I did my elderly Macbook wasn’t actually capable of playing it smoothly). You need a system’s compromises to fit around the kind of work you do and so true generalists will either need to go full frame Canikon, or Sony for something a bit more compact.
Thanks for your thoughts Ken!
“There’s a tendency among certain photographers to view shooting in manual as a mark of competence, but really I think the skill is in knowing when you can trust the camera and when you need to step in.”
This is something I particularly agree with – but its funny how some cameras feel like they are forcing themselves on you, where others allow you to use their automation in a way that feels like you are still in control. The Sonys are very much in the former category… whereas I find the fujis to be more in the latter
I have an A7s with a Nikkor Micro 105mm lens connected via a novoflex adapter, and then a metabones adapter (nikon to M and then M to E…or maybe it’s the other way round). But I absolutely love what this thing does in low light at close range on both the “illustration” and the “watercolor” settings.
“illustration” and the “watercolor” settings… new to me… can I see what it looks like?
Another great review Hamish, really enjoy your thoughts on cameras and the photography world in general 🙂
“…..bucking futtons..” Lol…..nice one Gamish Hill…Lolllll
Thanks, Hamish. Another fun read! There’s something about technology and getting results fast and easy. Then there is the challenge of thought and working with constraints. We’re all just getting lazier and more stupid, but we’ll get there fast at least! I want to buy an M-A.
Yes indeed! Cheers! Buy that M-A, or an M4-P at least! 😉
I suppose I fit the definition of a ‘dad’…..I would buy the all singing thingy knowing most of the ‘professional’ photographers out there give it more than a 7 out of ten and about the same price as other cameras of +7 reputation. The fact that I don’t want to spend time tecnoing up putting in the years to finesse the technical perculiarities of camera a,b or c appears to merit a special if not negative ‘dad’ label.
I suggest the root issue has more to do with that the more technically competent photographers are more aware their market advantage are slowly disapaiting. Companies – like Sony – have reduced the technical mystery of photography and flatten the differentials, which have existed amongst the likes of Canon, Leica and Nikon. I imagine to a ‘professional’ – technical admiration of the new mixed with sadness at technical skill erosion has got to expose mixed emotions.
‘Dads’ can now take photo’s using one of these ‘modern’ cameras which may be indistingusable from any hardened professionals offering. The reason I suppose is that the ‘creative eye’ is not a technical competence it is a human right – an evolution of sensing and seeing.
Sony and their likes are simplifying the technology and making space for the ‘creative eye’ …….. and it may be worth noting – ‘dads’ have eyes too.
Hi there, I got a little carried away with my response, and after some debate as to whether I was overdoing it, I posted this. Apologies, I feel like I have singled you out a bit, but I just felt you gave me the opportunity to get something off my chest…
That was the best write for the a7rii I’ve read. When I first got back into photography I bought the Sony 717 and then evolved into using Canon. I have been debating about buying the A7Rii. Your review is an easy read and has helped clarify a few things. So thanks Hamish.
Thanks Joe, always happy to help!
Another approach: Nikon DF and FM3A with Zeiss ZF.2 lenses (not the new Milvus.) And, if you need hi res landscapes, etc, have a D810 in the wings.
I also add the Sigma 50 ART, even though it is AF, but my Nikon 50 1.2 ais is pretty nifty…
Sony can’t please anyone, it seems. Can you make up your mind? This camera is too easy. No, it’s too complex. No, it’s both easy and complex at the same F…ing time. It has too many AF modes. It does not have too many time lapsing modes. It has too many buttons. It does not have enough buttons. You moan that this camera is full of unnecessary electronics. Yet you also moan that electronics presented in this camera are not organized according to Fibonacci sequence of perfection. Just learn how to customize this camera to your liking and enjoy it. No camera is perfect.
And by the way, you can assign Silent shutter to pretty much any customizable button out there. The scrolling list of assignable functions is so long, apparently you got tired scrolling it and decided instead to write this useless article.
Hi Dmitiry – I’m sorry if I’ve offended your favourite camera with my “useless” waffle.
Here’s a link to Steve Huff’s review, I’m sure he loves it, you’ll probably feel better about your favourite camera after reading his post http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2015/08/31/the-sony-a7rii-camera-review-a-real-world-look/
Isn’t it such a shame that we don’t all like the same things? That way your favourite camera would be the same as my favourite camera!
I confess to being an A7RII owner. Albeit an odd lot of one I’d bet. Yes, I did pay attention to some of the specifications and features you’ve expounded on as a basis of my purchase. I think 5 Axis Image Stabilization is the greatest photographic technology in, well, a long time (thank you Olympus!). And I see no downside to having a wonderful sensor with low noise and lots of nice pixels to it (not implying you do).
That said, I can easily see your ‘Dad Camera’ argument.
I’ll also weigh in to the A7RII being poor in some ways. A beautiful sensor in a candy wrapper of features with a boring exterior. I’ve got upwards of fifty cameras and well over a hundred lenses and the body, fit and feel of the A7RII is …. I’m searching for the right thought here. Well its plasticy (invented word), cheaply finished, feels a bit flimsy in ways, has some good controls that are oddly placed with some hard to use due to placement. It strikes me as a technical gizmo container that actually has very little photographic feng shui to it. It doesn’t endear you as a camera from a physical sense. Not something you just pick up and hold because of admiration of craft, beauty, or it just feels great in your hand. I’ve got some fine cameras that I do pick up just to hold at times. They call at me to do that.
So why is it I mostly shoot with the Sony A7RII? Well many of the lenses I own are quite old and I love exploring what each of these lenses can do. My thought has been what better way than to be able to mount them all on the same image sensor and then see what they can do, what I might do.
Despite all the features, my camera stays on M. I shoot very basically. Probably biased by the fact that I’m old and that’s the way I learned back in the mid Sixties. It’s also fair to say I have little knowledge of what all those features are down in the menu’s. I don’t go into the menu’s. Don’t use any of that stuff. I almost always shoot manual focus in manual exposure mode. I loved your comment on the EVF. Very quickly after starting to use the A7RII, I’ve fallen into a pattern of not looking at exposure values in the viewfinder or on the rear LCD. I don’t use EV compensation as many would shooting in auto modes. I just stay manual in M and bias up or down on the old school exposure triangle, ISO, aperture and shutter speed. I’ll generally pre-visualize the ISO, have aperture set on the front wheel and shutter speed set on the back wheel. EV just stays at 0. Those two wheels are fairly well located so I just bias up or down on those using a good knowledge of photographic rules (per desired visual results) and observing exposure with the EVF. The EVF itself is my meter and I can’t remember the last time I actually looked to see technically where exposure was sitting + or -.
Of course it helps to have a very good understanding of not only photographic fundamentals, but also a good understanding of the technology within and the capabilities and latitude that it can render. One of those capabilities per the A7RII is BSI technology. It’s an interesting added feature for a large high end sensor, one that’s intrigued me to explore a bit. What’s it add, how does it manifest itself. So this past week I’ve spent a good bit of time looking at noise performance versus dynamic range on the A7RII. I ran a series of tests. I did this because a lot of practical use told me this camera has good dynamic range and low noise when applied properly, however the range of upper and lower headroom is not linear .. equal top and bottom. So I figured it’s because of the BSI backlighting and there may be points of best practice for noise as well as dynamic range.
BSI backlighting can be equated to the digital equivalent of flashing your film. With either one, there’s only so much headroom. All you are doing really is shifting the headroom up or down with backlighting or flashing. Of course you’re doing that shifting for a reason, and that’s either for noise improvement or preservation of lowlights. What I wanted to know was how much of that (backlighting) is at the cost of highlights. Cause adding backlighting can’t add dynamic range, it can only shift it, i.e. a well can only hold so much charge!
Some things pointed out by my testing. The A7RII is a somewhat ISO Variant camera. Usable dynamic range and noise vary per ISO (I guess this is a fairly prescient thought for most any digital camera though but there is subjectivity to ‘usable’). Nothing like postulating the profound.
The A7RII does have non linear exposure latitude as suspected. At best it only has about 2 plus stops inching towards 2 ½ stops. However it has in my estimation over 5 stops lowlight headroom and at times I think it actually has another stop or two. Of course this is just from subjective viewing of test shots but to me, discounting noise, If I see all of the lowlight detail without clipping, then to me it has resolved at that exposure.
I believe formal claim is the A7RII has a 5 total stop exposure latitude. Per my testing I think it has a bit more, another stop or two at least given its latitude on the under exposure side (BSI here). And to this I say nice accomplishment Sony.
I have found the Sony A7RII to be a platform for me for capturing nice image results when taking into account a love for trying to keep many old lenses going and using them daily. The A7RII has a wide dynamic range with low noise and captures pretty good colorimetry. It’s gamut on Red could be a bit better but overall colors are pleasing and fairly natural. It’s tonal scale for a digital camera is very good, no actually the best I’ve encountered. Being an old tv video man (vision mixer in the UK) I learned years ago a strong image is predominately about the blacks. Most of the integrity of your image is in the bottom 5% of the tonal spectrum. So here too the A7RII is a plus (thank you BSI). It doesn’t matter how finely you build the three story house, if it’s on a bad foundation then everything is marginalized. The A7RII has the best image foundation of any digital camera I’ve observed.
I think this is where I’ll circle back and say I think I’m a very atypical user of an A7RII or probably most modern cameras. The camera has a world of features and yet I don’t use any of them. I’m not kidding when I say I don’t hardly know what’s in any of the menus. I don’t care what’s in the menus. I bought the A7RII to be this chunk that holds a state of the art high end sensor; and for being mirrorless so I can mount almost any lens ever made onto it and thus have a marvelous time exploring all of those lens capabilities. For me it’s a tool that enhances the historical preservation of image making by sustaining the use of many time honored old lenses.
Caveat to the above. I do use the Applications List menu so I can access the Smart Remote Control app for my Android device. I do many long exposures and bracketing on tripod so that is a menu function I’ve heavily relied upon.
In the end the A7RII is a hammer that I’m glad I’ve got in my kit. It’s not built as well as many of my hammers and has little sense of craft to it beyond leading edge sensor technology, BSI, 5 Axis Image Stabilization and a beautifully made Shutter. But to me it’s just a box to house those things. A box that’s not particularly well made physically or finished. I know I’ll be replacing it sometime in the near years with the next gen of box with the right new technology. But what a nice sensor! And combined with 5 Axis Image Stabilization and mirrorless mounting it gives me a wide span of image capabilities. And when I do want the feel of a craft camera, I’ll shoot with one of my Leica’s, Zeiss, Voigtländer, Nikon or Contax.
Just to pick a few bits out of a very interesting addition to the post…
Little Feng Shui is very well put… I’d not thought of it like that. All the stuff, just all in the wrong place.
The thoughts on latitude/bsi/gamut/blacks all very interesting reading!!
Not caring what’s in the menus is a feeling I very much empathise with!
All the lenses – agreed! I do wish it was slightly better with lenses with the nodal point close to the sensor. But then, I think that’s a wish shared by many, and a problem yet to be solved by anyone…
as for knowing you will replace it… such a mad world we live in!
Thanks for your thoughts!
I’m sorely tempted to ask you if you might like to contribute something in further depth to some of the above by means of a guest post!?
Thanks for your comments Hamish. I’ll send you a private email about your last mention.
Also per this, I’m considering sending my A7RII to Kolari Vision for their new sensor ‘Thin Film Replacement’. For those who may not be familiar, here’s Kolari’s description of this.
“We are happy to announce that we are now offering an Ultra-thin conversion for the A7 series. This new filter is only 0.2mm thin, 4x thinner than our previous thin filter conversion! At this thickness, the UT outperforms the V2, and performs compatibly to the Leica M9 in terms of corner sharpness. The UT filter is also AR coated to reduce sensor reflections”
Per the above, I have no connection with Kolari Vision. Just interested in the possibilities of corner improvements with older rangefinder lenses. As you can read above, their newest replacement claims corner performance equal to Leica M9. Well they use the term ‘performs compatibly’. I equated that to equals.
We are all caught in a vicious cycle of too many choices. In spite of the fact that I don’t get paid for taking photos, I need to take good photos and make videos for our yoga center marketing and outreach. I have been struggling the past 3 years trying to find the balance between efficiency and creativity and fun for myself. My lengthy journey has ended up with 3 cameras at this point. Panasonic for video. Sony for portraits and advertising and a Leica Q for fun. I have learned a lot in my journey and maybe I’m even grateful for the confusion.
My journey into the Leica world has me wishing that the Panasonic and Sony had such nice precise manual focus but maybe I’m not aware of what is out there.
Nice article. I felt a real connection with the battle going on.
Thanks, Bob! I get your point about being grateful for the confusion!
Not that it matters much, but the ISO-less sensor is in fact a technical term, not a label for ISO “redundance” or “irrelevance”. Simply put, the ISO-less sensor has only one true speed (usually ISO 100 or 200), and every other speed is achieved by digital (post)processing. It means that the sensor always captures the image at its base speed and then amplifies the signal to the desired or measured speed, not unlike what happens when you push film. Some digital cameras (most notably Canon) use some form of preamplification in the sensor, which is a different story.
However, I think your “lazyness” take on it is more than justified.
Thanks, Hallvard, I wasn’t aware of that! Glad you got my point though! 🙂
I did get your point. I should add that I just wanted to correct what looked like a minor misconception, not go against your personal and “not so technical” approach, which I like very much. Good read and sensible thoughts.
Thanks very much! 🙂
Hamish – what do you think of the A9 then? I would love to see a review of that maybe compared to the Leica M10 – that would be awesome if you could get hold of both cameras.
It wouldn’t suit my work – its less good for video. It still has the “auto” which is maddening too. If they got rid of the auto and the video modes for a more simple camera it might have appealed more. Too expensive too… and I don’t need the high speed…
Hey there, just wandered in here from the woods and your article had me wondering a few things:
I might have the opportunity to upgrade to a full frame camera in the future. I’m currently using an a6000 and I highly enjoy it. I’m amateur for sure, but if the opportunity arises to get a full frame…I understand enough to know I need to do this (that and your comment above on the APS-C sensor size). That said: for a hobbyist/amateur/aspiring/budding/wannabeanawesome picture taker in the future, it appears that the frustration/love with the a7RII is high in this article, and scares me a bit about making the wrong purchase. So questions follow:
What Sony full frame camera would you recommend if you think the a7RII is “too much of a thing” and I’m currently rocking the a6000?
Would you consider your comments preferential in nature? Or do they seem to reflect the opinions of those you know with the a7RII?
If I were to buy this camera, do you truly feel it would be something I would come to regret given I develop my skill over time? Or does that completely depend on the preferences of the photographer?
Hi, Justin – some very good questions!
All of the Sony A7 series have similar issues. I think the A7Rii is probably the best of them. In some ways, the new A9 looks interesting – but it’s a lot of money!
Yes, my comments are very much based on my preferences – they are also based on my circumstances as someone who wishes to use the camera as a generalist. I have been contacted a lot of times after writing this post – many people talk of finding a way for the camera to work for them in such a way that the nonsense appears to remove itself from the experience. But, many of them also seem to be people who only shoot in a certain way, of certain things. There is a post coming soon (I might publish it tomorrow actually) from a chap who is writing almost in response to this post – that would be very worth your while keeping an eye out for. You will have to let me know how you get on!
“What’s even more frustrating is that some of the functions can’t be assigned to ‘C’ buttons or the ‘Fn’ menu. Take for example the silent shooting mode or the mode that switches the viewfinder between showing the effect of the camera’s settings and just showing a bright picture, or the mode that stops the viewfinder switching to eye-level from the screen.”
have you tried to assign the monitor/viewfinder to C1 and the silent shooting to C2 while having AF/MF to magnify? It works for me in my work and still have C3, FN, Trash button assigned to other things.
João de Medeiros
My video guy has set them for the way he needs them now I think … … make what you will of that 🙂
Well, use something else then… Pathetic!
Thanks for the constructive feedback
I just found and read your article with great interest. I’ve owned a Sony A7RII for almost 3 months and I am almost 100% convinced that I absolutely hate it! The menus suck and I hate the electronic viewfinder. There are too many buttons and they are too small and flush mounted to be easily accessed without removing the camera from my face. Never mind trying to change settings while wearing gloves! As far as I’m concerned, it’s too small. Just because you can make something that size doesn’t mean you should. Sure, I love the size for its portability. Despite all of the feature things I dislike about it, my main problem is that I find it unreliable and have zero confidence in it. I photograph dance competitions using Elinchrom strobes with PocketWizard triggers and have had multiple instances where despite using manual exposure settings and the strobes triggering correctly, the camera underexposed by as much as 3 stops. Power cycling the camera is the only way to cure this. I submitted this issue to Sony and their response was that external triggers were not supported and to contact PocketWizard. WTF?! The other troubling issue is that it randomly won’t focus. I’m not talking about the lens searching, unable to find focus (although it does that too), I mean it doesn’t even focus. Again, power cycle. Every time I use the A7RII I’m worried that it might not be working correctly. In contrast, I pick up my Canon 5D Mark III and bang, bang, bang, it works every time without worry. Sure, the sensor is as amazing as everyone says, but as it camera it is awful. And that’s being nice.
Hi Ricardo – I am fortunate enough to have just found functional frustrations. Yours sounds broken…
Have you spoken to pocket wizzard – in this instance, they might be more useful to you than Sony as it is them who are seeking compatibility as a third party – if that makes sense?
I shot another dance competition this past weekend and have discovered what triggers (pun intended) the Pocket Wizard issue. When the camera wakes up after having gone into power saving mode, it underexposes. Power cycle the camera once or twice and it’s back to normal. I eliminated the problem by changing the power saver timeout to 30 minutes so it won’t sleep between heats or during breaks. Even though I’ve found this out, it is still extremely frustrating that I can’t just turn the camera on, and go. The focusing issue still persists.
What lens do you use, Ricardo?
I’m using a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L with a Sigma MC-11 adapter. However, I’ve had the same focusing issue using a Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 and a Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM.
I’m far from convinced by the idea of using other brand lenses – the AF just isnt right. That said, it’s odd that you’ve had issues with native lenses. The Batis is a little slow, but the Sony lens shouldn’t be… How frustrating this all sounds!!
My experience with the A7RII has been very frustrating!
I waited to pass judgment on the focusing issue until I had used purpose built lenses. A friend who went all in with Sony said he’s experienced the same issue.
The other issue I have with Sony zoom lenses is that the zoom is opposite Canon. With Canon you twist right to zoom out, and twist left to zoom in. Sony is opposite. When you have 90 seconds to photograph up to 8 couples on the floor, muscle memory is very important as I’m instinctively zooming in and out as I pan around the floor. I found myself losing shots because I had zoomed the wrong way. This is a personal issue that would resolve itself over time, but as there is no way to “practice” this I will stick to Canon lenses even if I don’t dump the Sony as I’ve been tempted to do several times.
First, a specific response to a specific comment … and then a broader response to the entire review:
So far I’ve found the auto-focus performance of my Canon 24-70mm with the Metabones adapter on the a7Rii to be more than adequate. It feels maybe just a smidge slower than on my 5D. Even then, it’s such a small difference, I wonder if my brain is that accurate to tell the difference. However. A big however. One of my major rationalizations for getting the a7r was this non-native lens capacity (having spent considerable funds on a decent set of Canon glass) and very specifically, the notion that I could slap my much beloved and cherished 70-200 2.8 L onto this seemingly-DARPA designed ultracamera from the future. I figured if the 70-200 2.8 could trick me into thinking I was a professional, the combination of the two would erase all doubt that I was a true “master of light.” Or at least a pretty nifty camera dude. But the dream bubble was burst and the 20-30% of reviews I had purposefully ignored were proven accurate. The 70-200 proves to be too much for the Canon-Metabones-Sony interface and not only is it undeniably slow to focus, I found there was way too much focus-hunting. And the wisdom of the review I had read that made the case that it’s simply impossible to beat the performance of a native lens system like the Sony with the Sony camera, became fully clear to me.
So my grand plan of saving the cost of buying the Sony 70-200mm went out the window. If I was going to rationalize buying the a7Rii when I already have the full-frame 5D iii it was going to have be because the Sony is just that much better. And after several months of shooting with it, I was starting to actually convince myself of this. But … I could never get rid of the itch to fill my hand with the heavier, bigger, but more hand-friendly 5D. It still shoots so damn well. Then on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays I would get all impressed again at the insane resolution and sharpness of the a7r.
Then I read your review. And the comments. And in your pleasantly and apparently purposefully semi-articulate approach you kinda nail it. It’s so hard to dislike this camera. It’s a great camera in so many ways. And I don’t even have as many issues with it as you seem to do — like the buttons. I quite like all the Cs and how they’re completely customizable. But there is something “off” about this camera and when you talk about it being a professional camera that’s not really professional, you’re putting your finger on the issue. I wonder often if it isn’t simply all about the size and shape of the camera. I mean, I quite like the “look” of it. It’s a great build. (Withstood a full four foot drop onto the sidewalks of Manhattan with damage only to the lens, none to the body.) It has an appealing sharpness to its overall design. But is it simply just a bit too small?
I found myself almost immediately ordering the multiple battery grip and not just because of the horridly short battery life, but MUCH MORE to simply make the camera bigger in my hand. So it felt a bit more like a 5D. Imagine that! Making a camera bigger. But that’s where I suspect my agreement with you lies … a pro camera that’s not a pro camera. Despite it’s very professional capabilities, it does seem more designed to catch the eye of the “Dad” photographer — the too-much-extra-cash casual family holiday photographer (guilty!) — more than the guys or gals that have to get up most mornings, strap on a “tool belt” and shoot for hours and then spend many more hours sitting at a computer click, click, clicking in the “digital darkroom.” If the a7r is a pro camera, let it be a pro camera. As soon as you snap on the 24-70 G master … isn’t this part of the problem? That’s a decent-sized lens sitting on a little body. If this is a professional camera and you’re changing lenses and you’re using lenses like the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm … what’s the point of the compact little body? It looks cool. But it doesn’t “feel” cool. And that impacts the whole button thing as well. I have no problem with the number of buttons and what they do … but again … once you put that many on a small body things start to feel crowded and confusing. For me, the amateur, if I’ve decided to invest in the effort of going out to spend the day shooting with a professional camera, I’m invested. I’m down with the weight, the buttons, the tech, the tripod (maybe). Where’s the need to make the body compact? In all honesty, I bought the battery grip because of the lousy battery life. But once I put it on, I never thought about taking it off again. I did, though, once. To see if I liked shooting with the smaller body and boy did I not like it one bit.
Anyway, let me wrap up this comment which is way way longer than originally intended with this broader thought:
While reading your review of this camera, I had the feeling that your issues with the a7r are a bit of a macro for ALL digital photography. Compared to film, isn’t all digital photography too easy? We can fire off dozens of frames in a few seconds and find that ONE where everyone is captured in an appealing way. Get the exposure wrong, no problem! (Now they are making cameras where focusing superfluous. Just tune the focus wherever you want it.) Yes, digital photography gives us other problems to have to deal with and solve … but in many key ways, aren’t all digital cameras too easy? Isn’t the computer work flow of processing our shots way too easy compared with the old fume-filled splish-splosh analogue dark room?
While a truly good professional or art photographer STILL needs a lot of PREP, hasn’t digital photography decreased the amount of prep required? These digital cameras and software programs are magical. They can compensate or fix almost all of our deficiencies.
Maybe that’s the bigger point you make with the whole blog.
Thank you for your extended thoughts – it really is comments like this that add so much to my posts here.
More than anything, I feel motivated to give you some links to read more thoughts I have shared.
I recently posted this review about the A5100 – a Sony I like and use. Since writing that, I spend the day today with the A7rii, shooting it for my hobby. Buttons! again!
You might find this interesting too – it’s about my enjoyment of uncomplicated cameras.
And this about a complicated film camera that I don’t like.
I suppose what I am trying to say is that this isn’t just about digital – much of the issues come along with digital cameras, but I don’t think they have to.
Finally, have a read of this, my leica m60 review…
Thanks again for the comment!
FWIW, you can absolutely program silent mode to the Fn menu. Mine is set that way now. Any after firmware 4.0 (I think?) there is an option to set “shot preview” to one of the custom buttons if you prefer to have shot result turned off. Also, I have C2 set to switch between EVF and LCD-solves the issue with the IMO overly sensitive eye sensor in the EVF.
That said, I found your take on the a7rII honest and a reflection of your own personal experience with it. It’s ok for me or anyone else to agree or disagree-I don’t find your criticisms of Sony’s product to be a personal assault toward me. 😉
Mike, I’m sorry, you have misunderstood – by me telling you that I don’t like a camera that you like, I was actually trying to offend you and all of your closest friends and relatives! I would have thought that was quite obvious? 😉 😉
The internet is a mad world!!
I am wondering if I need to update my firmware, I had my a7rii from not long after release – I have been confused by people giving me information that differed from my experience. I Shall get James the video guy to look at it for me…
Thanks for your comment, and thanks also for being a normal human being and understanding that it’s ok for two people to not both like the same camera! 😉
Good web site, so, thanks for publishing. I have the A7S and have had it a while now. I’ve realised I don’t own a single native, auto focus lens and use it only with manual focus M mounts such as the ZM Sonnar 50 (what a lovely lens!) and a couple of others including the ZM 35 and 25. I also have the Leica Macro Elmar M 1:4/90 extending lens which I really like for being tiny but with good reach. I keep thinking I should really just buy a Leica M but the the low light capability of the 12mp A7S coupled with it’s insanely easy focusing has reaped so many good shots in poor light, mostly and friends, family and events. It’s just captured those precious moments.
People go on about the dreadful A7 menu but the reality is, 90% of the functions are no interest to me and I ignore them. I generally use it is aperture priority and auto ISO up to 25,000 but at that level the image quality really starts to suffer. Or, depending on ambient light, I set the shutter speed and let the auto ISO do the rest.
I like it’s size and with the little M mount lenses it is pretty discreet. For me it’s a keeper for the specific photography I use it for. All other photography I use Sigma cameras 😉 They are, without doubt, a subject of their own!
I had one of the sigma foveon cameras once – I wish i’d kept it now. Crazy things!
Many thanks for your interesting comments.
Do you shoot the ZM 25 on the A7S? I spoke to Zeiss in Germany this morning and was told that they do not recommend this lovely lens on the A7S – even not on the Mark II, though it should be less critical.
I would appreciate receiving some feedback regarding the results of your combo, please.
Thanks in advance,
The short answer is slightly smeared corners – the impact will vary depending on your shooting style
Loved your review. I’m currently rocking an A7S with Milvus 50 1.4 and milvus 85 1.4. I mostly shoot boudoir and portraits in a studio setting.
Been thinking of switching cameras. The A7S is nice, but 99% of the time all that low light capability is wasted. Was thinking of getting a Nikon F2 or other legacy nikon film camera and learn to shoot film… or an a7rii or a7iii when it comes out, or a D850.
Any recommendations from that bunch?
Yes, buy the film camera!! 😉
Nice review! I shoot weddings and uses D750 and D800. The D750 is really a great camera and it still will be my main body. The D800 will be replaced and the D810 was my choice…untill I came up with the idea of a A7rll. I will use it with adaptor and my manual Zeiss Distagon, Sonnar, and Planar lenses with Nikon f-mount. I want the focus peaking and the inbody image stabilization. That will be the main reason to choose the Sony over a D810. Is the focus peaking superior to the green dot in the Nikon viewfinder? Sometimes I find the focus confirmation in the Nikons to be a little “slow” with very thin depth of field. Any thoughts about this? //Erik
I’d love to give you a straight answer to that one, but I can really only recommend that you try – maybe hire one with an adapter and try it. Unfortunately peaking is something that some people get on with, and others don’t. Personally, I’m not a huge fan, but I get by with it…
I have the A7R mk1 and Love it! Combined with the Zeiss Loxia 35, Batis 25 and light tripod I have everything I need for landscapes. Especially with the manual Loxia 35 lens, I can slow down, it’s almost like shooting film. And after a long day, my lower back ain’t complaining :).
Thanks for sharing the review. I am still not too sure about totally ditching my Nikon, and make a complete switch over to Sony… The Zeiss lenses look good, but it is going to be a very painful experience for my wallet.
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Dunno mate. You’re calling this a Dad camera and you’re shooting with a Leica? The sony is aa superb tool at a fair price- the Leica – not so much.
The Leica allows me to take photos without feeling like the camera gets in the way. The sony feels like a gadget. It’s all preference though… And I shall still be buying a Sony a7riii to offer me what the leica can’t
Well, for my 2 cents…I think the A7Rii is a marvelous piece of very professional gear that does come with a steep learning curve. I think your article more reflects frustration with the learning curve(s) than the actual camera, or any lack of capabilities of beautifully rendered photographs. This camera is insane, even with the crappy battery life. The “Dad” camera? For real? And you owned a Nikon D800 which doesn’t fit the “dad” camera even though it has a Sony sensor inside? Haha. You have to read, and read, and read some more…..but once you do and shoot about 10,000 trial shots testing out settings…you’re ready for a wedding shoot…without the “lost” canon shots.
It’s not a professional camera, it’s a pro-sumer camera. Proper professional cameras don’t need learning curves, not by professionals at least. That’s the problem here. As a professional I find it’s consumer features obstruct me as a pro – that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about it being a dad cam. I think you’ve missed my meaning about the dad cam thing – what does what I say have to do with the Sony sensor in a Nikon?
10,000 trial shots to learn how to use a camera is ludicrous, and precisely what’s wrong with this camera
If you want a basic camera that doesn’t get in the way of shooting, and is much more like shooting film, then the Sigma SD Quattro (or Quattro H) is the closest you can get. Don’t be fooled by the weird design, it doesn’t have much in the way of bells and whistles, just what you need, and ergonomically it’s simple, but it will make you work for your images. As long as you can live with narrower dynamic range, no high ISO performance ( I’d only go above 200 for black and white ) and a spartan viewfinder, you’ll love it. Even the raw files can’t be rushed through (Sigma’s software is kind of slow) so it slows you down on that score, but the files from it are beautiful when you nail it, I love mine, closest thing to shooting film in the digital world, in every way, there’s very little you need to do to the raw files if you set it up right. You can also remove the dust filter ( A two minute job, taking it out and putting it back ) and shoot full spectrum IR with it, great for black and white, it’s two cameras for the price of one. It’s probably closest to shooting with slide film.
Good job. You touch a nerve. You see the elephant in the room. Some digital cameras are so badly designed it´s almost like they despise creative photography. Those cameras are bureaucratic. They are like those bureaucrats whose quality is to know how many signatures and stamps a document needs. Those cameras seem to say: hey.. you should do better than taht.. here, press the other buttom. Their design has no dynamic. Sad thing is: pro videographers see themselves forced to buy into that concept by rationalizyng money x all the camera can do. Where i live, everybody has a Sony @7. Those cameras are good at bureaucratic shooting. Someone trained w/ the camera can frame and shoot. It´s a camera to be operated, not an extention of the photographer´s creative mind. A photographer who is improvising and flowing w/ the scene stumbles on their bureaucratic design all the time. If there is one thing those sonys do very well is take photographers back to film cameras. Fujis do the same w/ those perfect files.
Those cameras also offered Leica a new life. Leica is making cameras that go the opposite direction: they take away functions. The less functions the more expensive Leica cameras are. They reenact the solid brass feel, turn off digital bureaucracy and charge a fortune. In the 70s, in the glory days of creative photography and good photogear, that mentality would have them bankrupt in 6 months. Now, since camera design is happy at being foolish, Leica thrives.
Hey great example of a whiny article with a clickbait title. I hope I never accidentally read anything you write again.
Seriously kill yourself,
Hi Gary, thanks for the constructive criticism, feedback and advice! I might skip the last bit though, I wouldn’t want my kids to go without a father because someone didn’t like something I put in the internet about a camera once.
I don’t know who you are, nor do I care. Having shot with all the systems through the years I find them all to have both shortcomings and advantages. What I don’t like is doing an article without the science. We are after all talking about light, glass, sensors, F-stops, ISO and a general understanding of pixels. Probably one in one million people are pixel peepers anyway. The engineers at Sony created a great product in the A7R system, regardless of your science-less review. I will concede–absolutely–that the menu system is horrendous. It is foolhardy indeed to hit the field needing to be able to make adjustments only to find–that you can’t find–the menu or sub menu that you need. That needs to be fixed in future offerings, but I don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. It all comes down to skills, education, engineering, and offerings per price point. The camera in question may feel plastic-y but the images are on par with images taken with vastly more expensive systems– consistently. Maybe I should have included “in the right hands”. The said camera with some Lee filters and a sturdy tripod is outstanding for landscapes. The said camera with the 85mm Zeiss, a strobe and trigger and it’s a superb outdoor portrait camera. The A7 system has lost all of the Minolta color rendering and produces images only a little different that the Canons. One Caveat, this is not–by any stretch of the imagination–a lazy mans camera but to suggest that it is ridiculous is a bit much. A lot of your post is opinion, and one can find similar articles on the Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Olympus, Leica, and Pentax systems, glass, AF systems etc., No system is without gripes–none of them. If I shot 10,000 images with each of them–I would net the same number of “keepers” that my skills will allow regardless (with similar glass and peripherals).
So you don’t like what you’ve read on a blog about a camera because it’s an opinion?
I’m not sure you should be reading the internet at all if you don’t like opinions on things…
I enjoyed reading this article but I find the authors viewpoint completely ridiculous. I have owned and shot with almost every format camera out there and printed processed b&w, color slides, cibachrome, etc. over the years and have no nostalgia for those days. Sony has made a phenomenal product in the a7rii – the best camera I’ve ever owned better than my beloved Nikon FE2 for example. More creative potential than any view camera or any other camera I ever shot with. I love shooting with it. I expect to literally wear this camera out over 5-10 years.
Thanks Tom, I own the 3rd gen camera and I must admit I’ve found a little more love for it. I still find these cameras totally overwhelming and baffling though. They’re just not designed for photographers who think like me. I’m writing an article about my Leica m10 at the moment and I compare it unfavourably to the Sony cameras. The Sonys are just “better” in almost every way. But as a photographer I feel disconnected from what I do when shooting them and so overall prefer the Leica. But then, I also get a lot more kicks out of shooting very low end point and shoot film cameras too. So it’s likely me that’s the problem. I write these reviews though, as I know I’m not the only “me” out there. And in a world that just seems to push for bigger, better, faster etc I just wanted to make the alternative opinion heard