Sony Alpha Flagship Review (A7R2-A7S2)
I HAVE SPENT quite a bit of time with the Sony Alpha Flagship models over the past couple of months, so I wanted to give you my impressions of what these cameras are capable of and the benefits of using these kinds of high-end products.
I will also debate the upsides and downsides of the Sony Mirrorless full-frame system and give you examples where it surprised me greatly – and where it let me down a bit.
I shoot mainly landscape, cityscape, and astro photography, so if you want any information on how good these cameras are for sports, how the autofocus is and so on – you should read that up in other reviews. My quick review here is totally based on the body and the sensor performance. I rarely used the autofocus system, for example, but I tried it and it’s great – that is all I can say.
Also, I will compare the Sony Mirrorless System with other brand DSLR’s. You could say that is like comparing apples and oranges, but to be honest there is no other mirrorless system out there that comes anywhere close to the performance of the Sony system.
I didn’t spend much time with the Sony A7S2, mostly I had been shooting with the Sony A7R2. However, when I did spend some time with the Sony A7S2 I put it to the test in lowlight and extremely difficult conditions where other cameras just gave up. I know the Sony A7S2 is more geared towards videographers, so I will just include it in the Lowlight section as I used both cameras exclusively for photography.
BODY: The Sony A7R2 body is much smaller than a DSLR which is of course one of the points of having a mirrorless system, it should be smaller, save you some weight and make your life easier while moving around with your equipment. The build quality is good and the ergonomics feel right straight away – rubber padded in all those areas where a good grip is required, and nicely designed, simple, and functional. A big plus is the tilting screen that I used a lot when shooting in difficult angles. Another thing I like a lot about the body style is the 2 dials for exposure and aperture.
However, having a camera body this small does make zoom lenses like the 70-200 feel out of balance. Another downside that comes with the small body design of the Sony A7R2 is the size of the batteries and their very limited lifespan. If you are considering having the Sony A7R2 as your camera, plan to have a lot of spare batteries as depending on conditions and the type of photography your battery will be empty after around 500 pictures (less with long exposures). If you use a flash on your body, then the fun is over after approx. 270 shots.
The EVF is something that will take DSLR users some time to get used to, but I am sure eventually they will like it a lot, especially the fact that you can see the final image in your viewfinder. This is a nice feature and I must say the overall quality of the A7 series viewfinder is superb – great details, nice and bright. Even if you don’t use the EVF at all you get features such as focus peaking built into the camera’s software, so using live view and finding the right focus is easy in any situation, especially for landscape photography.
One thing that I really miss on the A7R2 is a dual card slot. I have never had a SD card fail on me so far but I would just love to have a second slot to be on the safe side, by writing on 2 cards at the same time if one fails at least your pictures are not gone.
Looking at the main highlight of the camera – which is the sensor – I don’t even know where to start on the A7R2. The sensor is simply superior and there is not much out there in the consumer market that comes close to it, aside from the Nikon D810 which performs somewhere close to the A7R2, but is still not as good. The Pentax’s K-1 came in as a surprise last year, but it is also not as good as the Sony A7R2. I won’t mention any other famous camera brands because they are years behind anyway…
Equipped with a 42.4-megapixel sensor, the Sony A7R2’s resolution is immense and it means you can print to a huge size and the details are just amazing. Of course, a resolution that high comes with the downside of big file size. A compressed raw file will be around 40-50 MB; a uncompressed raw file will be double the size. I shot compressed most of the times and comparing the files didn’t show much visible difference so I would say expected file size is 40-50MB as I don’t see the point of shooting uncompressed. File sizes that big also means your computer hardware must be up-to-date and fast enough to handle editing 42mp raws or even panoramas stitched from multiple 42mp files can cause problems if your computer is not fast enough – but after using the A7R2 for a while now I wouldn’t want to miss the resolution and incredible dynamic range. Once you’ve had it, it’s hard to go back.
Sony A7R2 resolution example images, click for fullsize
The dynamic range is another strong point of interest for me. In landscape and cityscape photography you encounter high dynamic scenes which are a challenge to capture even for modern cameras – with my Canon 6D I always bracket 5 shots to cover all luminosity ranges in the scene because then I know in post-production that I will have enough information to work with. With the Sony A7R2 I could get away with one exposure because of the extreme dynamic range this camera has, but I still bracketed 3 shots just to be on the safe side.
Dynamic Range Example, click for fullsize
The amount of shadow and highlight recovery is just mind-blowing; you must have worked on a raw file yourself to understand the power of this little camera – it is just incredible and makes the workflow a lot easier and cleaner. Of course, the goal is always to get a shot as good in-camera as possible but in some scenes you just have to rely on either multiple exposures or a good dynamic range to get the result you want.
Dynamic Range Example Video
So, let me talk about low light and show you some examples of how these cameras perform. At this point I will bring in a couple of Sony A7S2 examples as well – as I mentioned before the A7S2 is more focused on video but it is the king of low light so what better way to test it than to take both cameras out into the desert to do some astro photography. As reference, I will use my Canon 6D, which is one of the better low light Canons, and see how it performs next to the Sony Mirrorless Cameras.
Click for fullsize and exif
I must say the day we went out to do the tests we had terrible conditions – the temperatures didn’t drop even at night and we were sweating the whole time shooting the Milky Way at almost 40 degrees Celsius! So, all the results you see here are the cameras at their limit at super high temperatures, which makes them create way more noise than they would in normal temperatures – which again just shows again how incredible those Sony sensors perform in low light.
The Canon 6D at ISO 5000, 25 sec, f2.8 vs. the Sony A7S2 ISO 12800, 30sec, f4
Even at more than double the ISO you can see how clean the Sony A7s2 image is.
These couple of examples show how well the Sony sensors perform in low light. My Canon 6D is great in low light, and at normal temperatures it performs well and is a good camera for astro photography – but the Sony A7R2 and A7S2 are on a completely other level when it comes to noise and low light performance. I didn’t even get the chance yet to try them at normal temperatures, I’m quite excited to see how well they perform at 5 degrees Celsius in Norway, for example, considering how well they do at 40 degrees in the desert the results must be amazing.
High ISO example closeup, click for fullsize
So here is my conclusion about the Sony A7R2 and A7S2: they are the flagship models of the Sony Alpha lineup and for a good reason. The A7R2 is still ranked #1 in the DXOmark ranking because it has the best sensor on the marked – the A7S2 is a videographer’s first choice and I see that camera being used for more and more productions, especially drone related because of its small size. Do you need those cameras to take good pictures? The simple answer is no.
The Sony A7R2 has everything a photographer can ask for: it is small, it performs incredibly well, and it has Zeiss glass attached to it. There is nothing more you can ask for, but as always in photography the camera is just a tool and you can take amazing shots with pretty much every DSLR or mirrorless camera no matter how old or good it is.
The only type of photography where I will say it is not possible in the same way with other cameras is astro photography. You cannot replace amazing low light performance with good technique or editing skills – if your camera doesn’t capture those details in the night sky you can not pull them out of the raw files. I’m not saying astro photography is not possible with other cameras, I’m just saying getting results as clean as the Sony A7R2 and A7S2 deliver will be hard to get with any other camera on the marked right now. In the consumer market there is nothing out yet, there are solutions in the cinema industry but they are obviously not affordable for a regular photographer.
If you consider upgrading your camera system and you want to be up-to-date for years to come the Sony A7R2 is definitely the right choice. It has 42.4 mp and the dynamic range is more than you would ever need for landscape and cityscape photography – and you don’t have to worry about your camera specs getting to old or not able to keep up.
For me, as a personal experience I will say using the Sony Alpha system just makes a lot of things so much easier than a full size DSLR system. Yes, the size difference is not enormous but it does makes a difference. I bought a new camera bag just for my A7R2 setup because I was able to downsize the backpack I used – also I’m more relaxed while I shoot on location because I know that the raw files have so much reserves that no matter what happens I can recover it in post production.
When it comes to printing huge I don’t have to think twice, I can just go for it and the result will be amazing thanks to the high resolution. One thing I really miss on the system is a dual card slot – I can’t mention that enough. If you are out shooting on location and you want to have that comfort of knowing the epic moment you just captured is 100% safe on your card, with only one SD card slot you never have that safety – if the card fails that’s it, everything you captured is gone.
OK, I didn’t put the body itself through rough weather like rain, snow and subzero temperatures but I’m pretty confident it would do well and survive those extreme conditions.
In the end, it’s a taste thing again: do you want a smaller body and safe space or do you want a rugged solid DSLR system? As always, I have just tried to give you food for thought with my own experiences.
At the bottom of this review, I have attached a Sony A7R2 raw file so you can have a look for yourself and get an idea of the capabilities. Of course, this raw file is not meant to be reproduced, sold, or even published under your name – it’s just an example for you to get an idea what the camera is capable of.
I hope this little review gave you an idea about the Sony A7 system and what my experience with it was like.
If there are any further questions about this system, as always, don’t hesitate to contact me.