Anyone who knows me is aware of my love for Canon. Ever since the DSLR revolution in video took place I have been on the bandwagon. T2i was first then a 7D. XF300 video camera then 5D mk3’s and currently a 1Dx, 5D mk3 and C100 Cinema camera along with glass covering 11mm out to 1000mm.
Fast forward a couple hundred thousand stills and video projects later and realizing that some projects could benefit from 4k video and higher megapixel stills and like any gear hound I started looking around.
Naturally I looked to Canon. Their only offerings for 4k were the 1Dc (a 1Dx on steroids with a huge price tag) and the C500 which was double the price of the 1Dc and required an external recorder! Currently they have an XC100 hybrid which does stills and 4k video but with some real issues. And it’s not cheap. The 5Ds doesn’t do 4K video so not a consideration though for stills it’s fantastic.
The Panasonic GH series always got good reviews and especially the GH4 with internal 4k video for a ridiculously low price. No brainer right? Not really!
As I mentioned…I have great Canon lenses. They can work on the GH4 but not the way I prefer. Meaning autofocus. I am a one man production company on a lot of shoots and coming from traditional video cameras like the Canon XF300 and C100 which both have excellent AF systems, I need that for video work. And most of the still work I do requires AF. I didn’t want to invest in a second lens system. And after working with full frame cameras which are much better for low light situations, it’s really hard to think of going with a small sensor camera. Don’t get me wrong, the GH4 makes great images and great 4k video! It’s just not my cup of tea.
Sony came out with the A7 series. I was aware they did video but thought of them as still cameras first. And though Metabones offers an adapter for using Canon lenses on the Sony E mount cameras, the reviews were pretty terrible. Slower than slow for stills and non functioning for video. Then rumors of the A7rII started circulating.
First thing that caught my eye was the 4k internal video recording. Then 42mp sensor. Then my interest peaked when there were rumors the new Metabones adapter was fast on the A7rII. And truly worked in video mode! My goal is to use my Canon lenses and not buy any e-mount glass.
So I preordered figuring worst case I return everything and chalk it up to learning.
An aside on pre ordering…there is nothing worse than receiving all the accessories two weeks before the actual camera arriving! Talk about anticipation! I ended up getting a third party battery grip and a few batteries as initial reviews said they don’t last very long.
Finally the A7rII arrived and I did what every photographer would do with a new camera…tossed aside the manual, grabbed my favorite lens and started shooting! For this part one blog I will talk about the stills capability…video will be part two as I learned my SDHC cards (95mbs) are not fast enough for 4k video.
Out of the box several controls are in the wrong place for a guy with Canon hands. Especially when you’re used to the pro body Canon 1Dx and a gripped 5Dmk3. The Sony even with the grip is tiny! Smaller than a 70D!! BUT it surprised me with its weight. It is a solid chunk of camera! Build quality feels like it will last forever. Impressed!
Back to the odd controls… Shutter speed is controlled with a horizontal wheel on the back of the camera and aperture is controlled with a horizontal wheel on the front.
Both are awkward for me as my fingers want to overshoot their locations. Some practice will be required. Of note is the shutter lag compared to the Canon DSLR’s…it is there but not nearly as bad as some other mirrorless cameras I’ve tried. This has caused me to mistime some shots. Once again, practice! After digging through the plethora of menu items I ran across the setting to reverse those wheel functions and set a couple of other custom buttons. Thank you Sony! Now the wheel on the front (closest to the shutter) controls the shutter speed and the back dial controls aperture. Though I did accidentally shut off the camera a couple of time trying to adjust the shutter. The controls are too close together. I have also setup a back button focus turning the halfway down shutter release focus off.
It’s just the way I like working. There are LOTS of ways to customize the layout of the controls. This is a pro camera!
So my first shutter release… “Click-bjjjjjt” Very different sound and feel from the Canon. There isn’t a mirror after all! I remembered seeing a silent mode in one of the menus so turned that on. Well…there is absolutely NO noise or feedback that you’ve taken a picture! A little disconcerting….I need noise! Also noticed the electronic front curtain shutter on/off in the menu. Tried a shot with and then without. This does have an effect on the feel of the shutter release. With the EFCS on it is more responsive. Is all this sounding like Sony wants to be able to mimic DSLR behavior? It is clear they want to take over the market.
A couple of things to mention at this point. I have the Metabones E mount to EF mount mk4 adapter. This promised AF speed that a professional photographer requires when coupled with the A7rII. Guess what…it delivers!! Lenses that I have tried so far… 24-70f2.8L mk2, 70-200f2.8L mk2, 16-35f4, 300f2.8L mk2, 500f4L mk2. They are as fast to focus as they are on my 5Dmk3. Fantastic! The 1Dx feels a touch faster. Of note, the camera does allow the use of APS-C lenses and has a mode to enable them. This flows through the adapter just fine and means my relatively inexpensive 18-55 STM and 55-250STM work fantastically well. It does increase the effective focal length but the resulting file is only 5168×3448 so no advantage over using full frame glass and just cropping in to the 7952×5304 frame.
I have also tried the 100mm f2.8L macro. Unfortunately this didnt fare so well. It hunted for an eternity! But it is also an older lens (pre 2006 design) which Metabones states won’t work. I have a 50mm 1.4 which will share the same fate. All is not lost though!
Those two lenses and my manual lenses can take advantage of the customizable focus peaking and zoom!
Another feature I really like is Zebras. They are customizable and assist in exposure control. Here’s where Sony has really stepped ahead of the DSLR’s. Adding features found in the video world to the still side. This is possible for two reasons. First… the A7 series is designed to use the back screen as your main viewer which means a LOT of information can be overlaid on the image. Second, the viewfinder is also an OLED display with fantastic resolution meaning the same info can be overlaid there! Sony has nailed the viewfinder. It looks as good as staring through a traditional mirror/prism setup on a DSLR. Easy to nail focus manually without all the focus aids.
So how do the pictures look?
Remember I just started shooting without reading any manuals? Well…apparently the camera defaults to auto ISO when in manual mode. I didn’t realize this until I put a few pics in LR and started pixel peeping. Running down the develop controls (I shoot in RAW) everything was looking pretty normal till I got to the sharpen/noise reduction module. I zoomed in on a spot and noticed a bit of noise in the shadows. It’s a very fine grain and has very little color aberration. Then basic sharpen and NR were applied…awesome clean sharp image. Minimal processing. I happened then to glance at the ISO…6400!! WHAT?? In fact my first four shots were at that ISO! Had to sit back and take that in. This camera has an incredible dynamic range! And for being almost double the resolution of my 5Dmk3 and more than double the resolution of my 1Dx which is a low light monster I was not expecting it to be better at high ISO!
As expected, excellent color (not much different from the Canon bodies) and crazy detail which is a pleasant surprise. The file handling is a tad slower but manageable through LR and PS as these are huge images! Almost 8000 pixels wide! The raw files can be beat up pretty hard and not lose any quality. This is on par with the Canon raw files which is nice. Here’s an example of ISO 4000 with minimal LR settings to show what the noise is like and the detail that comes through. Keep in mind this was taken with a 300mm lens on a very hot, heat haze kind of day so look at the noise not the heat distortion. One thing anyone with a keen eye will see in the LR settings is I had to knock down the exposure a bit as the camera’s auto ISO overcooked it. With a little work this image cleans up beautifully! (click on pics for link to full size)
Here’s a second set of pics taken with the 500mm showing the cropping ability and the detail the camera produces. Original image 7952×5304 & cropped to taste 4987×2805. This pic might have ended up in the trash had it been taken on the 5Dmk3 or 1Dx. Just not enough pixels to work with. (click on pics to see full res)
There are so many features packed into this camera it would be crazy to list them all. Lots of special FX, wifi, apps, and in-camera processing for the jpeg side. Panorama, HDR and skin softening are things I may use. Where it gets crazy is the focusing methods. There are two modes…phase detect and contrast detect. Within those two modes there are dozens of settings to affect the behavior. For the bulk of the work I do, the phase detect will be preferred. It is faster. I chose the center group (9 points) I kind of feel bad ignoring the other 390 points but they always get me in trouble! If you truly want to point the camera in a direction and your subject moves across the frame it will track it for you by using all the focus points. Quickly and accurately even with the Canon lenses.
Another neat pair of features is the smile detect (automatically focuses and snaps the shutter when it sees a smile) and face recognition which learns faces. The faces then can be recognized, and automatically focused. Here’s one of the downsides to using the lens adapter. There are several AF features that won’t work. Eye tracking AF and continuous focus in video mode are two I wish would work.
One of the most exciting things this camera does is 5-axis in-camera stabilization. Most of my lenses have IS so why am I excited? My “walk around” lens is the 24-70f2.8L II which doesn’t have IS! And the Sony IS really works well. The lenses that have IS can use their own or the Sony’s. The lens IS seems to work better though. This also means my full manual lenses are now stabilized. BONUS!
So in a nutshell…If you are looking for a serious pro level camera system to invest in and don’t have lenses yet, the A7RII should be at the top of your list! If you want to use Canon glass be aware of the limitations but also be aware how good it is with the right Canon glass.
- with Metabones mk4 adapter it works perfectly with newer Canon lenses
- Excellent dynamic range
- 42mp!! Yes the files are huge but hard drive space is cheap!
- 4K video internal recording
- Easy to setup and customize – menus are intuitive
- Small even with the battery grip
- Power switch and front wheel are too close together (turned off camera a couple of times trying to adjust shutter speed)
- Slight shutter release lag compared to Canon
- Eats batteries
- Not all AF tricks work with the adapters (this isn’t Sony’s fault…after all they sell lenses too!)
- Main screen can only tilt up and down
- Have to buy an app to do internal timelapses ($10…really? on a $3200 camera?)
Admittedly I need to spend a lot more time with this camera to see where it fits in my kit but initial impressions certainly point to shelving the 5Dmk3. The 1Dx will be necessary for its burst rate and deadly accurate AF system. It is still the king…for now! As a Canon guy, I can say the Sony A7RII really does fit into a niche that Canon hasn’t entered yet. Though it’s not 100% perfect I don’t have to reinvest in glass thanks to Metabones.
As for the video side of the A7RII, stay tuned as I have big plans on this front!
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Owner/Operator of yipDog Studios
RobTurchick is the owner and operator of yipDog Studios. For over 25 years, regional, national, and international companies have relied on his wide range of skills and detail-oriented mindset for all areas of production including commercials, feature films and nationally broadcast TV shows.
In May of 2011, Rob opened the doors to a new facility which has become the studio of choice for many of Phoenix’s producers and directors. He has had photos published in magazines worldwide and has won several national awards for his photography.
Rob is also a classically-trained musician/composer, is passionate about
aviation and is dedicated to making every project the absolute best it can be.