Sony has been blazing a trail in the world of full-frame mirrorless cameras. The newest edition to the Sony Alpha series is the flagship camera, the Alpha 1. But with new features come impressive price tags.
Sony continues to produce and support older models of their cameras. The price of a Sony a7II is about half the cost of the top-of-the-line a7R IV. In this article, we will explore the features of the Sony a7II to see if it is still a good camera choice in 2021. Can you get the Sony full-frame experience at a lower price tag?
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What is the Sony a7II
The Sony a7II (ILCE-7M2) is a full-frame mirrorless camera. Sony released the camera in November 2014 as an upgrade to the original a7.
Sony designed this camera as an all-around, general-purpose camera. It is offered alongside the specialised a7R II and a7S II. In the Sony line-up, the R-series has higher resolution, and the S-series features low-light performance and video. Since the release of the a7II, Sony has upgraded each of the cameras 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 newest edition to the Alpha range is the flagship camera Alpha 1.
The most current versions of the cameras in the alpha series are the a7 III, a7S III, a7R IV, a9 II, and the Alpha 1.
All cameras in the Alpha series are professional or semi-professional full-frame cameras. Cameras in this series use the E-mount system. You can safely invest in high-quality E-mount lenses, knowing that they will work on upgraded camera bodies like the a9 or the Alpha 1.
Sony also offers a line of advanced amateur crop-sensor cameras. These also use the E-mount system, making them attractive backup cameras as 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. The newest crop sensor camera is the a6600, released in November 2019.
It is easy to get overwhelmed by Sony’s mirrorless camera offerings. Comparing the Sony a7II with the flagship Alpha 1 is not reasonable. You can buy four of these bodies for the cost of one Alpha 1. But it is worth comparing the a7II with the upgraded a7III and the newest crop-sensor, a6600, which is currently the same price.
Who is the Sony a7II Photographer?
The Sony a7II is a general-purpose, semi-professional camera. It is for an advanced amateur 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. As we will see in the review, the camera has limitations when it comes to action photography. Photographers who make large prints will be better off with the higher resolution a7R II, III, or IV. Photographers who do a lot of concert photography, or photograph in other low-light situations, should consider the a7S II or III.
In terms of price, the a7II is equal to the newest crop-sensor, a6600, and is about $500 less than the upgraded a7III.
Key Features of the a7 Mirrorless Cameras
Let’s look at some key features of the Sony a7II to help you decide whether this is the camera body for you. We will pay particular attention to how this camera compares with the upgraded a7III and the crop-sensor a6600.
Sensor and Image Quality
Sony is one of the world leaders in sensor production. It is not a surprise that their cameras feature some of the best sensors around.
The a7II has a full-frame 24.3-megapixel Exmor CMOS sensor. This gives a maximum resolution of 4000 x 6000. The sensor on the a7III is similar in size (24.2-megapixels) but uses an improved Exmor R CMOS sensor with back-illuminated (BSI) technology. The a6600 uses a 24.2-megapixel APS-C Exmor CMOS sensor.
It is easy to mistake more megapixels with better camera quality. But the 24MP size is a good choice for many cameras. It balances image size with speed. Though the flagship Alpha 1 model increases sensor size to 50.1MP, Sony has kept 24.2MP sensors on the more expensive a9 series for sports and action photography.
The Sony a7II captures 14 stops of dynamic range. This is similar to the a6600. The a7III adds an extra stop of dynamic range. The camera can capture a wide range of light, from dark shadows to bright highlights. The Sony cameras are some of the best on the market in terms of dynamic range. This camera is no exception.
ISO on the a7II ranges from 100 to 25,600. The results are good up to ISO 6400. But Sony has improved ISO performance on the newer version of the camera. ISO on the a7III is double the earlier model (100 to 51,200 expandable to 204,800). In low-light situations, the a7III gives good results up to ISO 12,800. The ISO performance of the a6600 falls between the two. The camera has an ISO of 100 to 32,000, expandable to 102,400.
The a7II was the first of the a7 series to include in-body image stabilisation. It includes 5-axis compensation, which has become standard on Sony cameras. This allows you to handhold the camera at slower shutter speeds. Even at 1/10th of a second, a good percentage of shots handheld are in focus.
On the a7 models, you have the option of shooting in Raw, JPEG, or both. You can choose between three levels of JPEG quality (standard, fine, or extra-fine quality). In Raw, you can select 14-bit compressed or uncompressed files. The a6600 creates both JPEG and Raw files, but Raw files are compressed.
In general, the a7II creates good quality images at a competitive size with even the more expensive cameras in the Alpha series. The camera will struggle more at the higher ISOs, but differences are minimal during everyday shooting conditions. The image stabilisation is slightly better in the newer models, but the a7II is almost as good.
Focusing System and Burst Rate
The autofocus system in the a7II was an improvement from the previous generation. The fast hybrid AF system uses both phase- and contrast-detection points. This hybrid system is now standard on Sony cameras.
The a7II includes 117 phase- and 25 contrast-detection autofocus points. Sony has continued to increase the AF speed and tracking capabilities of its cameras. The upgraded a7III has 693 phase—and 425 contrast—detection point hybrid AF system. This is a significant and noticeable increase in focusing ability. The newer model focuses faster generally and is especially in low light situations. The a6600 also has an improved autofocusing system with 425 phase- and 425 contrast-detection points. The a6600 also includes real-time tracking, which uses AI for faster and more accurate focusing. The camera analyses colours, patterns, depth, and looks for faces and eyes.
Sony has made significant improvements in autofocus speed and tracking. But many photographers will find the autofocusing system in the a7II is all they need. The extra AF points and tracking capabilities of the a7III and a6600 are useful when photographing sports and wildlife.
Face and Eye Detection
The Sony a7II includes face and detection and recognition. The camera will autofocus on both animal and human faces. Eye detection is also advertised as a firmware upgrade, but I have never been able to use it. Eye detection works only in AF-S mode and with some lenses. None of my Sony E-mount lenses work with eye detection. But both the 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 a7II 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 a7III increases burst rate to 10-fps, and the a6600 takes 11-fps.
The newer cameras also have larger buffers. This camera can handle about 20 Raw images or 50 JPEGs at full speed. The a7III can handle 89 Raw or 177 JPEGs. The a6600 again lies between the two models and can buffer 46 Raw or 99 JPEG images. The larger buffer means that you can continue to shoot longer bursts on the newer models. The camera will continue saving in the background, and you do not have to wait for the buffer to clear. This is only an issue if you shoot wildlife or sports where you may be using the continuous shooting mode over an extended period.
The a7II shoots full HD video at frame rates of 24p, 30p, and 60p in XAVC S format at 50 Mb/s. It does not take 4K video like the newer Sony models or the a6600. Both of the a7 models are limited to 29 minutes of video recording. The a6600 records unlimited video.
You can use the camera to create short video clips in HD. But the a7S series was created to specialise both in low-light photography and video. The a6600 is a better camera for video.
Body and Handling
The a7II was redesigned from the original a7 body. It is slightly larger and heavier than the original, with a more substantial grip. It measures 126.9 x 95.7 x 59.7 mm (5 x 3.8 x 2.4 in) and weighs 556 g (1.22 lbs.). The newer generations of a7s are largely modelled on the second-generation bodies. Though the grip is again 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 2.73in) and lighter at 503 g (1.11 lbs.).
The feel is not significantly different between the a7III and II. There are more function buttons on the newer versions and a joystick used to move focus points, and AEL and AF-On buttons. The more recent version moves the video record button from the side of the camera to a more convenient position near the right thumb. The C3 customisation button has moved and is controlled by the left thumb.
LCD Screen and Electronic Viewfinder
The Sony a7II has a 3 inch-articulating LCD monitor with 1,230k dots of resolution. This is slightly better resolution than the newer model. The screen tilts 90˚ to allow for high- or low-level shooting. There is a slight re-design in the LCD screen, making the newer generation easier to tilt. But the screens on the APS-C cameras allow for tilt as well as a 180˚ rotation. This is particularly useful when shooting video.
Missing is touchscreen capabilities now standard on the a7 models. This is not necessarily a deal-breaker. But it is a sign that this camera is from an older generation of technology.
The a7II has the same electronic viewfinder as the a7III, though the newer model has a slightly higher magnification.
The a7II has only one (UHS-1) card slot. To be competitive with professional-level DSLRs, Sony now includes two card slots in the Alpha series. The a6000 series continues to have only one card slot. 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 a7II uses NP-FW50 batteries. These are smaller than the newer NP-FZ100 batteries used in the a7III series. You can take about 350 images on one battery. 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 a7II means living with known issues, like a confusing menu system. The a7III improves on the menu system, though there are still complaints. Useful in the newer models is the addition of customisable menus. These make finding frequently used features much quicker.
This camera cannot shoot in silent mode. But this feature is available in the a7R II and a7S II; and the a7III cameras. With a firmware upgrade, Sony also added built-in interval shooting to the a7III series. The a6600 includes both silent and interval shooting.
Sony has chosen not to upgrade the menu system. The last firmware update was in May of 2019. But you can download PlayMemories camera apps that add functionality to your camera. For instance, you can take double exposures or simulate long exposures without ND filters. The PlayMemories camera apps do not work on the newer version of the camera.
The Sony a7II is still a good camera in 2021, especially 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 with few build issues. This image quality is good even in direct comparison to my third-generation bodies. It has nearly the same dynamic range and image stabilisation as the newer versions.
The feel is similar to the newer a7III. In most situations, the slower focusing system and burst rate do not impact my photography. The focusing system struggles in low-light, and you may find it challenging to track fast action. The camera has 117 focus points and a burst rate of 5 frames per second.
The upgraded Sony a7III also has a 24.2MP, full-frame sensor. It has 693 focus points, shoots 4K video, and has a burst mode of 10 frames per second. This is similar to the a6600, which has a 24.2MP crop-sensor, 425 focus points, and a burst rate of 11 frames per second. The a6600 is better for video as it will shoot 4K and has a screen that rotates 180˚.
There are a couple of drawbacks to the camera. It uses the older, less powerful battery system, there is only one card slot, and it does not have touchscreen capabilities.
Buying an a7II on sale or used is an inexpensive way of getting a good full-frame, mirrorless camera. Quality E-mount lenses are worth the investment as they will transfer as you upgrade to newer Sony bodies. But at full price, the older version is not as attractive as the a7III or the a6600. Instead, consider spending the extra $500 to get the a7III or, for the same price, buy the crop-sensor a6600.
Quality of base features compared to the competition, 15/25
Extra features, 10/25
Handling and Ergonomics, 12/15
Construction and Durability, 15/15
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