This week we were given a brief hands on with the new A7R Mark II from Sony. This was a pre-production model but very near the final product. We got a good but brief look and feel of it and while we are not allowed to publish any pictures taken with the camera, we were however able to pull a few JPEG files into Adobe Photoshop for better viewing and for glossing over things such as noise, file size, print size etc. RAW support for this camera was not out at the time of our playing with this camera. (Adobe announced an update just a day later).
The following are our first thoughts after a brief inspection of the camera and a follow up conversation with the people at Sony HQ in New Delhi, India. [We’ve already published an overview based on the spec sheet here.
Sony announced the A7R Mark II on the 10th of June 2015. It is an upgrade to the highly regarded A7R. The R in the name denotes that this camera is geared toward high resolution as compared to others in the Sony A7 line.
It features the world’s first High resolution, Full frame, back illuminated sensor. The sensor packs a whopping 42 megapixels. I shall elaborate on the back illuminated technology later.
First, the exterior.
The body for the most part remains similar to the previous model and to the other cameras in the A7 line. There are a few important changes though.
Firstly, the grip is slightly bigger and deeper. This is good as it makes the handhold-ability much better (especially if you have medium sized hands such as myself). The camera feels firm in the hand.
It also feels a bit heavier and chunkier as compared to the A7R and the A7S. Again, this adds to better handhold ability especially when shooting in low light. Holding a slightly heavier camera steady is much easier and better than compared to a lighter camera due to the added inertia.
The placement of the dials and the buttons is in similar position. The main dial now has a lock button in the center. All the dials on the top are easily accessible. The main shutter button has been moved to a more “natural” position on the top of the grip as compared to the original A7R where it was higher up and placed next to he C1 button on the top (see picture below). This suits most shooters especially those who are transitioning from DSLRs to mirrorless cameras.
The A7R MkII gains another Custom Button on top (C2) which is great as both still and video shooter can assign this to a setting that they frequently change and the positioning of these buttons next to the shutter button is very good.
Both the dials and the buttons have a nice resistance to it. Especially the buttons have a good resistance to them, which helps especially if you are making a few setting changes on the go. You get the tactile feedback of actually pressing the button. The two dials (thumb dial and finger dial) are now plastic as compared to metal previously.
The A7R mark II retains the Function (Func.) button, which is highly customizable and pulls up a quick menu for changing settings on the go. This is very familiar to most users even users of other brands as other camera manufacturers also have something similar to this. I am glad that Sony hasn’t changed this.
Staying with the right hand side of the camera, the video record button retains its position and is now slightly recessed inward in my opinion, which helps with it not getting pushed by mistake.
Shifting to the LCD screen, it is a 3 inch unit with 1.23 million dots. I was very happy to see Sony make some changes to its design. The screen still folds out if you need it too, the supporting bracket feels more reinforced than before. Most importantly, the screen now clears the view finder on top to provide you with a clean view and also from the bottom for easy usage on a tripod/ monopod. This is fantastic ergonomic change.
The left of the camera retains the EP (3.5mm) mic input and the headphone output. The mic in provides “plug in power”. The HDMI out port is still a micro port for connecting to an external recorder for recording video or viewing.
The finder on top has seen the most change. The electronic finder is noticeably bigger and brighter. It is now OLED for true colour representation and the finder magnification has been increased to 0.78x, which is very welcome. The magnification optics of the finder has now been improved too. A peculiar down side of electronic finders tends to be the appearance of “colour fringing” especially if you move your eye from side to side in the finder. Sony has this very well controlled with the use of T* (T-Star) coating which is borrowed from Zeiss.
Mr. Hiroaki Nakao, Asst. Manager-Product Marketing, Digital Interchangeable Camera Department from Sony India told me that they especially wanted to provide a high-resolution finder with such a high resolution camera so that the finder does justice to the image.
Sony Global also released a video detailing the insides of the finder
The hot shoe on top features the MI or Multi Interface for use with Sony’s proprietary accessories such as flashes and the XLR “jack pack” for using professional XLR audio connections.
Right next to the finder, Sony advertises one of the A7R mkII most important upgrades – 4K and Steady Shot Internal.
This brings me to talk about the insides of the camera.
As a mark II model, you expect major upgrades, internally is where you see them the most. Both the still and video capabilities of this camera have got a big boost from the previous model.
The sensor is completely new and specifically designed. This is the world’s first camera to have a backside illuminated Full Frame sensor. A Back illuminated sensor simply implies, a circuit design where all the wiring and components of the sensor are behind the pixels. This not only ensures a much faster information read out from the sensor, but most importantly it allows space for more pixels as well bigger pixels itself, thereby ensuring both higher resolution along with high ISO performance. The A7R Mark II packs a 42.4-megapixels and can reportedly stretch its ISO range up to ISO 102400.
I did some quick, and prompt tests on my own.
First, the resolution. As I pull the files in my laptop, the first thing I noticed is the file size. The RAW files are massive as expected. On an average, they vary around 40-50MB per image.
Secondly, the print size. As mentioned before, RAW support is not out as of yet. I pulled a simple JPEG file into Photoshop to judge its print size.
The A7R mkII packs 7952 x 5304 pixels and delivers a massive print size of apprpx. 22 x 15 inches at 350 DPI. Which simply implies, a large 22 x 15 inch print can be made in a 1:1 ratio i.e. without any enlargement.
It should be mentioned that the A7R mkII does not feature an Anti Aliasing Filter for added sharpness thus ensuring that we get to extract the most out of the 42-megapixel sensor. With that being said, I noticed no colour fringing on moire’ (zigzag lines) on typical subjects such as textured cloth (shirts, ties, coats etc.) from a quick test indoors. This is not a final test, but if it is anything to go by, Sony definitely has the problem of artifacts under control.
Moving onto the High ISO performance. Sony has been championing the high ISO segment for a while now, especially with the A7S, which is optimized for light sensitivity. It should be mentioned that High Resolution and High ISO performance, don’t traditionally go hand in hand. As photographers we’ve not been able to get both in the same body, BUT I think this camera is here to change that. To put the sensor to the test, I took a couple of shots with the Noise Reduction turned of and the ISO boosted up. I was in a small conference room with only a couple of tube lights. This sensor is extremely light sensitive. Even in such a dull environment I was able to get an almost outdoor like exposure of 1/250th at f/ 6.3 on ISO 10,000.
The noise seems very much under control even with the reduction turned off in the camera. On pulling the files and zooming to 100% in Photoshop, there is very little noise, especially in the darker areas of the image. There is noticeable softness at the edges, but that can be down the unprocessed JPEGS. This is easily correctable in Photoshop. Switch the Noise Reduction on in the camera, and this would be gone, especially in RAW files.
The camera not only boasts a revolutionary new sensor, it also boasts a never seen before autofocus system. There were known issues with the slowness of the autofocus on the original A7. The Mk II version now packs 399 phase detection AF points and 25 contrast AF points. Sony calls this the “Hybrid System” as it uses the best of both worlds, contrast detect and phase detect. The phase detection helps considerably in low light by eliminating focus hunting.
Most of all, the autofocus is now optimized for wider usage with lenses other than the native E mount. The autofocus system of the A7R mkII will now track a subject with other lenses such as Sony’s own A-mount (SLR and SLT lenses) via the LA-EA adaptor as well as with 3rd party lenses via respective adaptors. This is great as Sony presently has a limited amount of lenses in its line up to cover all photographic needs. Studio and portrait photographers or architectural photographers (to whom the A7R mkII will be particularly attractive) have their own set of favorite lenses (such as tilt shift and portrait macro lenses) this now enables them to retain those lenses if they should choose to shift over to Sony’s system.
Also, for people buying this camera as a 2nd or 3rd body would be given to holding onto their lenses. Independent film makers are specially given to having a preference for Canon EF mount or Nikon N mount lenses, this would especially appeal to them. Sony’s own native E mount lenses do a good job on their own though and Sony has promised to add more lenses in the future. Mr. Nakao further confirmed that all present and future E mount offerings from Sony have the resolving power for such a high-resolution sensor. This I would say is another plus for the mark II.
It is not only the auto focus that is making waves but also the in body stabilization. The A7R mkII now has the proprietary, 5 axis sensor shift stabilization that Sony is known for. This further helps in adapting old or third party lenses that may not have stabilization. If you remove the lens you can actually see the sensor dancing around and the camera gives a noticeable vibrational pulse on starting up (which is presumably the stabilization kicking in). Sony first implemented the 5-axis stabilization in the A7 mkII. YouTube user Sean Ellwood uploaded this video to provide a close up of the sensor while the stabilization is at work.
Sony says the shutter mechanism has been reworked too. The original A7R was given to have a shutter that was a bit loud for the liking of most photographers. Sony has dampened that considerably. The first shutter curtain is electronic that reduces vibrations to a negligible level when shooting handheld at longer shutter speeds.
The A7R Mark II is also well spec-ed on the video front. It can shoot and record 4K video internally in multiple formats; both in full frame 4K as well as a “center scan” mode that delivers a true Super 35 image.
Added functions that support a professional video workflow include Picture Profile, S-Log2 Gamma and S-Gamut which deliver a very flat image to colour grade later.
A7R Mk II can also shoot 120fps high frame rate in HD (720p) as well as generate time code and give a clean HDMI output for recording externally. As previously mentioned, the HDMI port is still a micro port.
This is a big boost for small and medium size video production as it allows them to use the A7R Mark II as either a stand alone camera or as a second camera to intercut while using a more top of the line camera such as the FS7 (or even the A7S)
Those already using the A7S to good effect will be pleased to see some video features being implemented here as well. The 4K picture in video mode comes from the entire full frame sensor area with no crop and gets reduced later in processing. If you wish to switch over to Super 35mm mode you get a 5K (15 megapixel) full pixel readout from the center just like the A7S. This 5K images is then processed and recorded to 4K. This is a very big achievement as the image, in theory is “oversampled” by almost 2x (1.8 times in actuality). This will help produce less moire’, less aliasing and rolling shutter as the camera is using the entire range on pixels and not skipping lines.
The most striking aspect of this is that Sony is able to do all this data processing and compression internally, in a camera body this small. This is a big indicator of the processing power of this camera. Mr. Nakao also briefly elaborated on how this is being achieved. He says- “ Our present line of Bionz X processors are capable enough to process large data rate. We have also added a DRAM chip to help with the processing and buffering.”
The A7R Mark II records 4K video in the XAVC-S codec, which is gaining vast popularity. It records at 100 Mbits/second. This is as per industry standard. Sony offers progressive frame rates of 24, 25 and 30p. The internal recording is 8bit 4.2.0. colour space while the HDMI can output clean 4.2.2. 8 bit colour.
To conclude, if the spec sheet and the first hands on are anything to go by, I would be inclined to believe that we have a potential game changer on our hands. As a mark II version, you expect to see changes, corrections and new innovations in a product line, and Sony has considerably delivered on that front and not just provided a slightly tweaked product. It is refreshing to see a camera deliver on all fronts and not compromise on any department be it High resolution or Higher ISO performance, or between still and video. Ofcourse the proof is in the pudding. It was be interesting to see what the final product delivers on.
We will be getting a final production model for in depth testing soon.
The camera is set to hit the shelves from mid-late August onwards. Official price is not out yet but is expected to be around approx. Rupees 240,000/- for the body only.
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