Is the Sony a7 II still worth buying in 2023? 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 whether this is the way to experience the wonder of the full frame for yourself.
So, let’s have a look at the Sony a7 II in more detail. Its strengths and weaknesses, and whether we think it’s still a good buy for you today. Read on to see what we think!
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Sony a7 II Overview and Specifications
Sony a7 II
The Sony a7 II (ILCE-7M2) is a full frame
Sony designed this camera as an all-around, 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 low-light performance and video.
Since the release of the a7 II, 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 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. You can safely invest in high-quality E-mount lenses. They’ll work on upgraded camera bodies like the a9 or the Sony a1.
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. The newest crop sensor camera is the Sony a6600, released in November 2019. There are rumors there may be a new one released soon.
But is it worth comparing the a7 II with the upgraded a7 III? And what about the newest crop sensor, a6600?
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. As we will see in the review, the camera has limitations regarding action photography. And photographers who make large prints are better off with the higher resolution a7R II, III, or IV.
What about photographers who do a lot of concert photography or photograph in other low-light situations? They should consider the a7S II or III.
In terms of price, the a7 II is cheaper than the newest crop sensor, the a6600. And it is considerably less than the upgraded a7 III.
Key Features of the Sony a7 II Mirrorless Cameras
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 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.
The sensor on the a7 III is similar in size (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 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 size to 50.1 MP. But Sony has kept 24.2 MP sensors on the more expensive a9 series for sports and action photography.
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. And this camera is no exception.
ISO on the a7 II ranges from 100 to 25,600. The results are good up to ISO 6,400. But Sony has improved ISO performance on the newer version of the camera. ISO on the a7 III is double that of the earlier model (100 to 51,200 expandable to 204,800).
In low-light situations, the a7 III 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 and is expandable to 102,400.
The a7 II was the first of the a7 series to include in-body image stabilization. It includes 5-axis compensation. This has become standard on Sony cameras. 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. 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 a7 II creates good-quality images at a competitive size. This is even with 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 stabilization is slightly better in the newer models. But the a7 II is almost as good.
Focusing System and Burst Rate
The autofocus system in the 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 on Sony cameras.
The a7 II includes 117 phase detection and 25 contrast detection autofocus points. Sony has continued to increase 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. This is a significant and noticeable increase 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 AI for faster and more accurate focusing. The camera analyzes colors, patterns, and depth, plus looks for faces and eyes.
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 useful when photographing sports and wildlife.
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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 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 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 continue to 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. You may be using the continuous shooting mode over an extended period.
The a7 II shoots Full HD video at 24, 30, and 60 fps in XAVC S format at 50 Mbs. 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 video for as long as the memory card and battery last.
You can use the camera to create short video clips in HD. But the a7S series was created to specialize in low-light photography and video. The a6600 is a better camera for video.
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 lb).
Sony largely modeled the newer generations of a7s on the second-generation bodies. 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 2.73in) and lighter at 503 g (1.11 lbs.).
The feel is not significantly different between the a7 III and II. There are more function buttons on the newer versions. And you use a joystick 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 customization button has moved. And it is controlled by the left thumb.
LCD Screen and Electronic Viewfinder
The Sony a7 II has a 3-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 cameras’ screens allow for tilt and a 180-degree rotation. This is particularly useful when shooting videos.
Missing from the a7 II are touchscreen capabilities, which are now standard on the more recent 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 a7 II has the same electronic viewfinder as the a7 III. But the newer model has a slightly higher magnification.
The a7 II has only one (UHS-1) card slot. Sony included two card slots in the Alpha series to be competitive with professional-level DSLRs.
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 improves the menu system. But there are still complaints. The addition of customizable menus in the newer models is helpful. These make finding frequently used features much quicker.
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.
For instance, you can take double exposures or simulate long exposures without ND filters. But the PlayMemories camera apps do not work on the newer camera version.
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 few build issues.
The image quality is good, even in direct comparison 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 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 couple of 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
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 about only slightly more, buy the crop sensor Sony a6600.