Opinion: Sony Knocks it Out of the Park with the A7RII
I'm a big fan of Sony Products, and anyone who follows this blog knows that I've a soft spot for their cameras. I currently have an A6000 and I've previously shot with a Nex 7. I've also been eagerly following the developments of the A7 line with great interest. I've said it before, but Sony are one of the few companies really innovating in the imaging space. Not only are their sensors used by pretty much every other major company now, but they're constantly pushing the envelope in the camera market. From the RX1 which brought a superb full frame sensor to the compact camera form factor, to the A7 Line which made full frame really affordable and small. The A7 line certainly isn't perfect, but with the recently announced A7 R Mark II Sony are getting pretty close to it.
The A7R II kind of caught everyone off guard. The camera industry is generally like a sieve when it comes to rumours. Sites like Photo Rumors and SonyAlpha Rumors are usually fairly on the money when it comes to camera announcements, but all of the rumours about the A7RII suggested it would be a refinement of the existing A7R, but with the 5 axis stabilisation from the A7II. There had been talk of a high megapixel sensor coming down the line, but the rumour sites said not to expect it this soon. What Sony announced in the A7RII was like someone's wish list (well, mine anyway) for the almost perfect camera.
The A7II features not only a new 40mp sensor, but its backside illumination technology promises a significant improvement in sensitivity over the existing A7R. Not only that but it also includes the ability to shoot in 4K using a full sensor readout (so no pixel binning) and it can record 4K in camera. (There is some confusion as to whther full sensor readout is only in Super 35 crop mode, as they always mention that mode every time they mention the lack of pixel binning - we'll have to wait and see if that get's clarified). Up till now if you wanted to shoot proper alias free video with the A7 line you really needed to use the A7S. This meant that if you needed a higher megapixel count than that cameras 12mp, you would have to buy two cameras. Well, not any more. Not only that but based on the sample sony posted to YouTube, the results are amazing (once you look past the YouTube compression and lack of grading).
Here's what the Sony press release says about the new sensor:
The newly developed 42.4 MP back-illuminated CMOS sensor is the most advanced, versatile and highest resolution full-frame image sensor that Sony has ever created, allowing the α7R II to reach new levels of quality, sensitivity and response speed. In the past, many photographers have been forced to choose between high-resolution and high-speed or high resolution and high sensitivity when selecting a camera. The new α7R II eliminates that sacrifice thanks to its innovative image sensor.
The 42.4 MP sensor combines gapless on-chip lens design and AR (anti-reflective) coating on the surface of the sensor’s glass seal to dramatically improve light collection efficiency, resulting in high sensitivity with low-noise performance and wide dynamic range. This allows the camera to shoot at an impressive ISO range of 100 to 25600 that is expandable to ISO 50 to 1024002.
Additionally, the sensor’s back-illuminated structure, with an expanded circuit scale and copper wiring design, enables faster transmission speed and ensures content can be captured in high resolution without sacrificing sensitivity. Data can also be output from the sensor at an approximately 3.5x faster rate compared to the original α7R.
It doesn't stop there though. Sony have quite often been accused (and rightly so) of not really listening to their customers, but with the A7RII they really seem to have been paying attention to what people were saying, and to how customers are using their cameras. They've added high quality auto focus, which according to several people who were at the launch event, also works remarkably well with Canon lenses via a metabones adaptor! They've improved the body and grip design. They've improved the shutter design (also a common complaint)
The new shutter's braking mechanism cuts mechanical front/rear curtain vibration by about 50%. Also, use the electronic front curtain for even less vibration. This not only minimizes camera shake that can blur details in 42.4-megapixel images—it makes the shutter durable enough to have been tested to 500,0008 cycles.
They've added the 5 Axis in body stabilisation from the A7II. The've also improved the EVF with a new bigger viewfinder and an improved anti reflective coating in the viewfinder optics to reduce glare and address the issues that I was only talking about last week!
The new full-frame α7R II has an upgraded XGA OLED Tru-Finder™ with a double-sided aspherical lens that delivers the world’s highest viewfinder magnification3 of 0.78x for crystal clear image preview and playback across the entire display area. ZEISS® T* Coating is also utilized to reduce unwanted reflections that interfere with the shooting experience.
The one question that currently remains unanswered is whether or not Sony has improved its much criticised compressed raw format. On the specifications page for the A7II it specifically mentions 14 bit RAW, so hopefully they've listened to that complaint too.
For high end users, this is a really compelling camera, especially if you want to shoot video. Obviously this isn't for everyone as not everyone needs 40mp, but it really is a huge step forward, especially when compared to the Canon 5DS (sorry Canon fans) which might have a slightly higher megapixel count, but can't compete with Sony on dynamic range, and doesn't have 4k. Canon seem to want to avoid competing with their Cinema EOS line, but Sony doesn't seem to care and seems to want to offer the best it can in whatever range, without worrying about competing with their camcorder devision.
There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about the ongoing "camera crisis" and how the market is collapsing. Theories have blamed everything from the rise of smartphones (which have destroyed the entry level) to mirrorless. But in my opinion, the real reason the camera market has been lagging is simply that, with a few exceptions, there has been a lack of real innovation from the major manufacturers. They just haven't offered compelling reasons to upgrade. Sony on the other hand have knocked it out of the park time and again and continues to push with every release. I suspect that the A7RII will win a lot of converts from Canon and Nikon. I'm certainly considering ditching my Canon gear for this.
One Other Thing
That wasn't all Sony released either. The company also announced the RX100 Mark 4 which adds 4K video to the tiny Rx100 (albeit for only 5mins at a time) and the RX10 Mark II which adds 4k to the RX10. Both of these offerings feature full pixel readout, so again, video should be superb.
According to Philip Bloom, the A7RII only does full sensor readout and oversampling on 4K video when shot in Super 35mm mode. This is a bit of a let down, but considering that it's coming off a 40mp sensor, not entirely surprising.