Is the Sony a7 II still worth buying? Getting into full frame photography can be expensive. So it’s well worth considering an older camera if it can still produce the goods. And the a7 II is a great way to experience the wonder of the full frame!
So let’s look at the Sony a7 II in more detail. We’ll discuss its strengths, weaknesses, and whether it’s still a good buy. Read on to see what we think!
Sony A7 II Overview and Specifications
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Sony designed this camera as a great general-purpose camera. It is offered alongside the specialized a7R II and a7S II. In the Sony lineup, the R Series has a higher resolution. And the S series features amazing low-light performance and video.
Since the release of the a7 II, Sony has upgraded each camera in this series at least once. The company has also introduced the a9 and a9 II cameras. These are designed for sports and action photography.
The most expensive edition to the Alpha range is their flagship camera, the Sony a1.
All cameras in the Alpha series are professional or semi-professional full frame cameras. Cameras in this series use the E-mount system.
Sony also offers a line of advanced amateur crop sensor cameras. These also use the E-mount system. This makes them attractive backup cameras. That’s because they use the same lenses as their full frame cousins.
But the APS-C bodies are not simply watered-down versions of the full frame systems. Sony often includes its best features in the crop sensor bodies. This is the case with the Sony a6600, released in November 2019.
Who Uses the Sony A7 II?
The Sony a7 II is a general-purpose, semi-professional camera. It is for the advanced amateur. It’s for those looking for an entry-level full frame camera. The availability of newer versions of this camera reduces the price.
You can use this camera in most travel, street, and family photography situations. But as we will see in this review, the camera has limitations for action photography.
Photographers who make large prints are better off with the higher resolution a7R IV or a7R IV. And photographers who do a lot of concert photography or photograph in other low-light situations? They should consider the a7S II or III.
Key Features of the Sony a7 II Mirrorless Camera
Let’s look at some key features of the Sony a7 II. This will help you decide whether this is the camera body for you. We pay particular attention to how this camera compares with the upgraded a7 III and the crop sensor a6600.
Sensor Size and Image Quality
Sony is one of the world leaders in sensor production. So it’s no surprise that their cameras feature some of the best sensors around. The a7 II has a full frame 24.3 MP Exmor CMOS sensor. This gives a maximum resolution of 4000 x 6000 pixels.
The sensor on the a7 III is similar in resolution (24.2 megapixels). But it uses an improved Exmor R CMOS sensor with back-illuminated (BSI) technology. The a6600 uses a 24.2 MP APS-C Exmor CMOS sensor.
It is easy to mistake more megapixels (MP) for better camera quality. But the 24 MP size is a good choice for many cameras. It balances image size with speed.
The flagship Sony a1 model increases sensor resolution to 50.1 MP. But Sony has kept 24.2 MP sensors on the more expensive a9 series for sports and action photography.
Sony cameras are some of the best on the market in terms of dynamic range. And this camera is no exception. The a7 II can capture everything from dark shadows to bright highlights.
ISO on the a7 III is double that of the earlier model (100 to 51,200, expandable to 204,800). And the ISO performance of the a6600 falls between the two.
In low-light situations, the a7 III gives good results up to ISO 12,800. The camera has an ISO of 100 to 32,000 and is expandable to 102,400.
It allows you to handhold the camera at slower shutter speeds. Even at 1/10 s, a good percentage of handheld shots are sharp.
On the a7 models, you can shoot in RAW, JPEG, or both. And you can choose between three levels of JPEG quality (standard, fine, or extra-fine).
In RAW, you can select 14-bit compressed or uncompressed files. The a6600 creates both JPEG and RAW files. But the RAW files are compressed.
In general, the a7 II creates good-quality images at a competitive size. And this is true even with the more expensive cameras in the Alpha series.
The camera will struggle more at higher ISOs. But differences are minimal during everyday shooting conditions. The image stabilization is slightly better in the newer models. But the a7 II is almost as good.
Focus System and Burst Rate
The autofocus (AF)) system in the Sony a7 II is an improvement from the previous generation. The fast hybrid AF system uses both phase and contrast detection points. This hybrid system is now standard in Sony cameras.
The a7 II includes 117 phase detection and 25 contrast detection autofocus points. And Sony has continued to improve its cameras’ AF speed and tracking capabilities.
The upgraded a7 III has 693 phase detection points and 425 contrast detection points. It’s a hybrid AF system with a significant and noticeable improvement in focusing ability.
The newer model focuses faster in general. But it’s especially faster in low-light situations.
The a6600 also has an improved autofocusing system with 425 phase detection points and 425 contrast detection points. The a6600 also includes real-time tracking.
This uses artificial intelligence (AI) for faster and more accurate focusing. The camera analyzes colors, patterns, and depth. And it can recognize faces and eyes.
It is not impossible to track motion with the a7 II. It is just more difficult than with newer versions of the camera.
Sony has made significant improvements in autofocus speed and tracking. But many photographers find that the autofocusing system in the a7 II is all they need.
The extra AF points and tracking capabilities of the a7 III and a6600 are most useful when photographing sports and wildlife.
Face and Eye Detection
The Sony a7 II includes face detection and recognition. The camera’s autofocus works on both animal and human faces. Eye detection is also advertised as a firmware upgrade. But I have never used it.
Eye detection only works in AF-S mode and with certain lenses. None of my Sony E-mount lenses work with eye detection. But face and eye detection work well on my a7R III.
Continuous shooting frame rate is another area that Sony has improved in newer versions of their cameras. The a7 II has a burst rate of 5 frames per second (fps). This is similar to the frame rate of the original version of the camera.
The a7 III increases the burst rate to 10 fps. And the a6600 can shoot at 11 fps.
The newer cameras also have larger buffers. The a7 II can handle about 20 RAW images or 50 JPEGs at full speed.
The a7 III can handle 89 RAW photos or 177 JPEGs. The a6600 lies between the two models and can buffer 46 RAW files or 99 JPEG images.
The larger buffer means you can shoot longer bursts on the newer models. The camera continues saving in the background. And you don’t have to wait for the buffer to clear.
This is really only an issue if you shoot wildlife or sports when you use continuous shooting mode a lot.
The Sony a7 II shoots Full HD video at 24, 30, and 60 fps in XAVC S format at 50 Mbps. It does not take 4K video like the newer Sony models or the a6600.
Both the a7 III and III models are limited to 29 minutes of video recording. The a6600 records video for as long as the memory card and battery last.
Body and Handling
Sony redesigned the a7 II from the original a7 body. It is slightly larger and heavier than the original. And it has a more substantial grip. It measures 126.9 x 95.7 x 59.7 mm (5 x 3.8 x 2.4 inches) and weighs 556 g (1.22 lbs).
Sony largely modeled the newer a7 generations on the second-generation body. But the grip is larger to accommodate larger batteries. The crop sensor body is smaller at 120 x 66.9 x 69.3 mm (4.72 x 2.63 x 2.73 inches). And it’s lighter at 503 g (1.11 lbs).
The feel is not significantly different between the a7 II and III. There are more function buttons on the newer version. And you use a joystick to move focus points and AEL and AF-On buttons. (These are AutoExposure and AutoFocus.)
The a7 III moves the video record button from the side of the camera to a more convenient position near the right thumb. The C3 customization button was also moved and is now controlled by the left thumb.
LCD Screen and Electronic Viewfinder
The Sony a7 II has a three-inch articulating LCD monitor. It has 1.23M dots of resolution. This is a slightly better resolution than the newer model.
The screen tilts 90 degrees to allow for high- or low-level shooting. There is a slight redesign in the LCD screen. And it makes the newer generation easier to tilt.
But the APS-C camera screens allow for tilt and 180 degrees of rotation. This is particularly useful when shooting videos.
A touchscreen is missing from the a7 II, which is now standard on the more recent a7 models. This isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker. But it’s a sign that this camera is from an older generation.
The a7 II has the same electronic viewfinder as the a7 III. But the newer model has a slightly higher magnification.
The a6000 series continues to have only one card slot. And one card slot is fine for most photographers. Only photographers who need the faster UHS-II card slot or need to back up their images will notice the missing second card slot.
The limited battery life is a known problem with the early Alpha cameras. Using this camera means carrying more batteries and planning for frequent recharging.
Sony has made changes in response to customer experiences. Using the older a7 II means living with known issues. One example is a confusing menu system.
The a7 III improved the menu system. But there are still complaints. The addition of customizable menus in the newer models is helpful. This makes it easier and quicker to find frequently used features.
This camera cannot shoot in silent mode. But this feature is available in the a7R II, a7S II, and a7 III cameras. Sony added built-in interval shooting to the a7 III series with a firmware upgrade. The a6600 includes both silent and interval shooting.
The Sony a7 II is still a good camera. This is especially true if you can find one at a reasonable price.
I bought this model shortly after its release and continue to carry it with me as a backup body. The body has stood up to the wear and tear of travel photography with very few issues.
The image quality is good, even directly compared to my third-generation bodies. It has nearly the same dynamic range and image stabilization as the newer versions.
The feel is similar to the newer a7 III. The slower focusing system and burst rate do not impact my photography in most situations. But the focusing system struggles in low light. And you may find it challenging to track fast action.
Let’s compare the specs for each of the three cameras:
- Sony a7 II: It has a 24.2 MP full frame sensor, 117 focus points, and a burst rate of 5 fps.
- Sony a7 III: This upgraded camera also has the same sensor. But it has 693 focus points, shoots 4K video, and has a burst mode of 10 fps.
- Sony a6600: It has a 24.2 MP crop sensor, 425 focus points, and a burst rate of 11 fps. But the a6600 is better for video. It shoots 4K and has a screen that rotates 180 degrees.
There are a few drawbacks to the a7 II:
- It uses the older, less powerful battery system
- There is only one card slot
- It does not have touchscreen capabilities
But buying a Sony a7 II on sale or used gets you a good, inexpensive full frame mirrorless camera. Plus, quality E-mount lenses are worth the investment. They will transfer as you upgrade to newer Sony bodies.
But at full price, the older version may not be as attractive as the a7 III or the a6600. Instead, consider spending the extra money to get the Sony a7 III. Or, for only slightly more, buy the crop sensor Sony a6600.