I’m under pressure to take endless pictures with the A7R II which arrived from WEX (Warehouse Express) on Thursday superbly packed. I am also finishing off f2 Freelance Photographer magazine to go to print over the weekend and have many hours of work to do – and despite having the camera, I won’t be removing some other article to rush a scoop into print.
It’s actually pointless to attempt to review any camera until you have used it for a few days at the minimum, with deliberate testing in mind, or several weeks with normal unplanned uses to confront it. Nothing tests a camera (and photographer) quite like real world pictures which are not hunted down as test subjects.
But of course I have gone out and taken a few shots during a brief period of sunshine which has returned after days of rain, and replicated a set-up I shot few weeks ago on the A7R, also to test a new type of combined LED and flash lighting head (Bowens IC12).
First of all, the £2695 UK price has to be compared against the A7S, A7II, or A7R with due accounting for its useful bonus – this camera body comes with the usual USB charger block and a battery, and then a further Sony external battery charger (remember them?) and a second battery. At Sony RRP this is £76 (battery) and unavailable (charger) but surprisingly expensive when it was. It’s definitely £100-worth of extras. There is also a screw in, not clip in, screw clamp grip twin USB/HDMI tethering lock device which could also securely grip mic and headphone leads.
Unboxing should hold no surprises now, but firing up the A7R II was a familiar experience as so many of setting customisations turned out to be factory preset to my own preferences. It still needed the image size and filetype setting up, AdobeRGB, Date Form folders and a few other things I used. And then, at last, the entry of copyright and byline information to be embedded into every image!
The A7R II takes the same GGS screen protector as the A7II and the RX100 series, not the same as the A7. First job was to stick a temporary protector on, and order one of these. All my cameras have GGS glass on them from day 1.
I used the CZ 16-35mm f/4 lens for a few outdoor shots and also for a test or two I will not release (too many tripods, cat trays and empty boxes in shot!) indoors at up to ISO 6400. Basically… you can use Auto 100 to 6400 and as long as you set Luminance NR to 25 from 400 up and increase it gradually to 50 at 6400 (LR/ACR) the images will be smooth and noise free as well as sharp. I also enter NR 10 even at 100, because it helps keep sky blues smooth.
You can view or download and examine, as you wish, a full size 120 megapixel from this from my pBase library – http://www.pbase.com/davidkilpatrick/image/160888201
You can view at ‘large’ which is really small… select ‘Original’ to see the original, of course. Or a tiny corner of it! If you think the 16-35mm is at the edge of its performance at f/9 in this shot, you are right. Anything wider and the corners and ends of the shot become visibly soft at 16mm. This test shows me that where f/9 was fine for 24 megapixels, I’m probably going to go for f/11 or even f/13 as a standard setting with the A7R II.
This is not a fair test even yet, but it says a few things. It’s taken on a late 1960s Asahi Pentax SMC Macro Takumar 50mm lens (I enter 75mm in the App data on the camera to ensure correct SSS) set to f/11, which is actually around f/14 at this working distance/extension. The camera is hand-held, with a Sony mini flashgun on top bounced to trigger two Bowens IC12 heads set to flash mode, after first doing the lighting and subject adjustments in LED Video mode. With these unique heads, the flash and the video modes are 100% identical in terms of how they cast shadows. The flash was set to 1/1 power at 1/1000th for a bare fresnel spot on the left, and 1/2 power at 1/1000th in a small Apollo softbox above and to the right. Focusing was done using the magnify function by moving the camera (or head and hands, in effect) over the subject.
Again, you can view a 100% 120 megapixel version of this: http://www.pbase.com/davidkilpatrick/image/160888192
Because this is very low power LED burst flash I need to set the ISO to 800, which would never be chosen for detail. NR is at Luminance 25 in Adobe Camera Raw (adjusting only that top slider). There is a full dynamic range with deep shadows and brightly caught surfaces. No adjustments have been made to the raw file in conversion for contrast, colour or exposure. I think it represents a very highly quality for ISO 800 and to see the level of microcontrast and detail, you need to examine the lowest contrast surfaces – the rounded bodies of the poppy heads. Throughout the image you will find areas of sharp focus and softer focus and it’s easy to tell the maximum sharpness zones. I also made an exposure at f/16 and this is significant softened by diffraction as you would expect. At f/8 this macro lens is likely to be sharper but with a file size like this, depth of field rules go out of the window. You need to use the same technique as would be employed when planning to make a 20 x 30″ print from a 35mm negative!
I will have more images soon enough. My initial impression is that the A7II really fixed the ergonomics of this camera type, the A7R II is identical; its functions cover all the functions found on every different A7 series body sufficiently well to make it one camera for all purposes.
– David Kilpatrick
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