Last Week Today: Our Take on the Sony a7r II Announcement

by Hugh Brownstone3 Comments

If it lives up to the hype, the Sony a7R II [Preorder at B&H | Amazon] may be THE camera that ushers in the end of an era. It’s the most exciting new camera announcement we’ve seen in years. Biggest surprise of all? Internal 4K recording.

The Sensor

Sony’s announcement this past week of the new a7r II led with their 42 megapixel back-illuminated sensor.

Smart: it steals some of the thunder from the singular strength of the 50 megapixel Canon 5Ds twins by narrowing the resolution gap, AND cements Sony’s reputation as the world’s leading sensor company by offering next generation technology.

Kudos, Sony: you know it’s not just about megapixels – but you already knew that, as evidenced by your convention-defying, low-light monster, 12 megapixel a7s.

With the a7R II, though, Sony has upped its ambition and is going for the trifecta of high resolution, wide dynamic range, AND low noise at high ISO (we can’t imagine it will be as good as the a7s [B&H | Amazon] in this last regard – but we won’t be surprised if it’s closer than you might think in real-world terms). The a7R II also sports the XAVC-S codec and S-Log.

 

Last Week Today: Our Take on the Sony a7R II (Pre-Review!)

No other manufacturer short of ARRI or RED is as clear as Sony that this balance is the way to go, and it shows. If Sony’s a6000 is any indication – and of course it is – Sony looks like it’s about to redefine our conception of sensor excellence.

But there’s even more on the sensor front: with the option of going Super35 in 4K without pixel binning – and with the removal of the low pass filter – Sony is going after every opportunity to squeeze out the last drop of sharpness from the a7R II II while reducing moiré.

The “Lens Issue”

That Super35 option also provides focal length flexibility, since with the effective crop factor, moderate telephotos suddenly become long distance brutes.

Good thing, too, because Sony needed to address the lens issue – as in what to do as Sony continues to build out its own lens line.

Or perhaps, even more importantly, how to lower the cost of switching from one brand to another without requiring all new glass.

Fascinating, by the way, that this only works in one direction: neither Canon nor Nikon can make Sony glass work on their bodies.

With 5-axis IBIS (in body image stabilization) and hybrid auto-focus, phase detect auto focus, and face detection – if the new autofocus is really that good – the umbilical cord connecting Canon glass to Canon bodies may truly be severed – and also open up a revitalized world of vintage and non-IS glass (like the lovely Zeiss Loxia line [B&H | Amazon]).

How good does the autofocus have to be? If the autofocus is so good that it allows Canon glass to autofocus with the same speed as on a native body – if it’s good enough to make a Metabones Speedbooster or adapter truly usable in autofocus mode – whoa.

Unless the next camera Canon comes out with is spectacular – or is priced unbelievably well — it’s the end of an era for Canon.

Nice-to-Haves

The a7R II sports the same ergos as the A7 II – nice!

Highest full frame viewfinder magnification out there? Well, OK – but we’re not expecting it to blow us away on that basis alone.

Frame rates? Not quite clear to me.  120fps in 720p is the only non-standard frame rate we've heard, to be confirmed. The Panasonic GH4 may still beat it on full resolution, 1080p AND 4K.

Internal 4K Recording

The biggest news from where I sit is what happens when you combine all of this goodness with internal 4K recording.

It makes the a7R II likely to be the best still/video hybrid out there. Period. This is an honor I’d reserved until now for its baby brother, the a6000 [B&H | Amazon}

There can be a world of difference between an announcement and a shipping product. Depending on what we learn in the coming weeks and then once we get our hands on it, my view may change.

How It Stacks Up Against the Competition

But the Sony a7R II is a jarringly well-conceived camera that could leave a swath of destruction for its competitors. This isn’t just a competitor to the Canon EOS 5D Mark 3 [B&H | Amazon]– which it decimates on paper as a hybrid stills/video solution.

Nor is the a7R II just a competitor to other mirrorless entries, from its own baby brother a6000 to the Panasonic GH4 [B&H | Amazon], Samsung NX1 [B&H | Amazon]or Canon’s just announced XC-10.

ON paper, at least, the a7R II appears to outpoint all of them so significantly that it may truly be worth the extra cost (while at the same time making the GH4 look even more like an incredible value).

But with specs like these – and a $3,200 price tag for the body alone – it’s going to cause heads to swivel all the way up the line to potential Canon C300 Mk 2 buyers, because that is the first opportunity in the Canon line to get 4K and interchangeable lenses.

Those specs also mean that more than a few people thinking about Sony’s own FS7 or Blackmagic’s just-announced URSA Mini are going to be looking really, really hard at the A7R Mk II as well.

Shortcomings?

I’m sure there are a few.

Looks like the record button is still in the same silly place. I’m betting Wi-FI is still clunky, as are the apps (does remote control now include video?). Is the clean HDMI out in 10 bit, or only 8 bit like the a7s? I’d still like the rear LCD to swing out. Micro HDMI ports are still problematic.

How good will dynamic range and low light ISO actually be?

Do you want to spend $3,200 on a single camera (you could buy five or six a6000 bodies for that amount)?

Still, after passing on the a7S, the a7 II, the GH4, and the C100 Mk II, this may be the camera that puts me over the edge beyond the a6000 – which I STILL think is incredible, and has a form factor I actually prefer.

To learn more, visit Sony's web site.

(cover photo credit: snap from the video)

Hugh Brownstone

Hugh Brownstone

Hugh is the founder of Three Blind Men and An Elephant Productions. He and the team write, direct, shoot, score, and edit web-centric films; conduct photo shoots; and write copy, white papers and blog posts. Hugh also writes screenplays (he recently optioned a TV pilot) and just published his first eBook (Apple's iPhone: The Next Video Revolution). If it's about telling stories, it's in their wheelhouse.

And always with the ambition of authenticity, humanity and wit.
Hugh Brownstone

Comments

  1. Canon 1 DC records 4K internally and has done so for about four years.  I doubt the Sony will look half as good.

  2. TimJones6 Tim, you’re right — I forgot about the 1D C completely. That says something about the camera; my imminent Alzheimer’s onset; or both. It came out at $12,999 and now sells for $7,999.  I’m not sure how much better the 1D C sensor is, but I do know that the 1D C doesn’t compare as far video features like focus peaking.  Smells like we need a walk-off!

  3. TimJones6 according to folks who know… the Sony looks quite a bit better, actually. And not unjustifiably. The dynamic range alone will be improved through the better sensor architecture, let alone through read out. Bit depth, like pixel quantity is only a percentage of the story and the story here looks quite strong.

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