The Sony a7S II is the latest full-frame mirrorless Alpha camera to be released and builds upon the head-turning low-light capabilities its predecessor was made known for. Now featuring internal 4K video recording, in-body 5-axis image stabilization, and improved autofocusing, the a7S II is once again calling attention to itself by offering a range of features currently unmatched.
Sony invited me to meet up with some members of the Digital Imaging team in New York City so that I could get some hands-on time with the newly released a7S II. Using the mirrorless camera along with the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8, FE 28mm f/2, and FE 24-70 f/4, I had the opportunity to do some shooting while in the city. What follows is an introductory overview and my first impressions of photographing with the brand new Sony a7S II.
The a7S II follows the same body design as the other Mark II a7-series cameras, which means more customizable buttons on the top and back and a beefier chassis sporting a deeper, more ergonomic grip. The larger body design gives room for the in-body 5-axis image stabilization system. We’ve seen this feature first added in the a7 II and then the a7R II, but I think particularly the a7S II really makes the most of this new inclusion. As a camera beloved by moviemakers, the 5-axis stabilization means that these customers can start getting away with using no additional bulky stabilization accessories for a very low profile, yet professional shooting experience. And with the excellent low-light capabilities, the in-body stabilization is also maximizing the full imaging potential of modern day photo technology. You can combine the great low-noise, high-ISO quality with the 5-axis stabilization to pull extremely clean shots without much regard to the lighting situation.
Since I normally shoot with my own Sony a7R and have also used the a7 II and a7R II, I’ve certainly come to have my own preference in terms of how these cameras are set up. What I’ve come to enjoy is that nearly every button on these cameras can be customized — something that I take full advantage of. Picking up the factory-reset a7S II reminded me of this, and I think Sony is doing a good job at letting their customers be the ones in control of their own devices.
Autofocusing with the a7S II has been improved to be twice as fast as the first generation according to Sony and now has 169 AF points. I had no troubles with locking in focus quickly in dim scenarios such as in a restaurant and in Sony Pictures’ screening room using both zone and single point AF modes. Using zone AF points shooting dark subjects with a brighter background, there were a few instances where the focus would go for the better-lit parts in the background. In those trickier situations however, I would expect the user to recognize it and probably change to a more accurate single point AF. The a7S II is said to maintain autofocus in conditions as dark as -4 EV, so I look forward to testing that out more as I get more playtime with the camera.
The all-new shutter mechanism in this camera is built with higher durability and performs more quietly with a 50 percent reduction in vibration. The silent shooting mode keeps pace with the camera’s five frames per second maximum shooting speed. I used its silent shooting mode for when Sony President and CEO Kaz Hirai was presenting the RX1R II and it should work swimmingly for weddings or other noise-sensitive applications.
I've bundled together a series of a7S II raw files (106.1 MB) that range from ISO 1,600-409,600 so that you can play with pushing and pulling them yourself and inspect the noise and dynamic range qualities to your heart's content.
One of the key improvements in the a7S II is the ability to now record 4K 24P/30P video internally. With the a7S, an external recorder was necessary and ultimately negated the light rig setup you gain when shooting with a mirrorless system. Unlike the a7R II’s internal 4K recording, there’s a full pixel readout without pixel binning while shooting in the full-frame format. Again, combined with in-body stabilization, your film setup may have just now shed two pieces of accessory devices if you are upgrading from the Sony a7S. The a7S II does have HDMI output for 4K and Full HD (4:2:2 8-bit) as well. There’s also the ability to record 120 frames per second in Full HD and internal recording of 5x slow motion video.
For videographers who need to maximize the data in their captures for postproduction color grading and corrections, the a7S II now supports S-Gamut3.Cine and S-Log3, which can widen the dynamic range by up to 1,300 percent. The new Gamma Display Assist function helps those shooting in S-Log to maintain a sense of the scene’s contrast by displaying them naturally on the on-camera monitor rather than the low contrast S-Log recorded version.
There’re also a few more details to keep in mind. All the Mark II a7-series cameras still only have a single SD memory card slot rather than the now popular dual slots, Sony FE lenses are still coming along and selection is semi-limited, especially in the large aperture range, and battery life remains to be a relevant topic for these advanced mirrorless systems.
Having dual card slots would certainly be a big winning factor for many professionals who rely on file redundancy, even if that means one SD and one micro-SD. Sony does seem to be taking a lot of time in releasing a set of lenses that can match up with the favorite offerings of Canon or Nikon, but then again, you could just buy an adapter for the Sony and wait it out. I am interested to see how battery life in the a7S II fares with the in-body stabilization and 4K recording, but I won’t be very surprised if it isn’t all that different from the mediocre longevity of the Sony a7R II. I don’t think there is an easy answer for the battery life in these mirrorless cameras. We either have to wait it out for better compact batteries to become affordable, wait it out for engineers to figure out a way to further reduce battery consumption in the device, or beef up the size of the camera yet again to fit a bigger battery. I’ll add that there is one new form of relief in this area: now, the micro-USB port on the camera can be used for charging while the device is powered on and operable.
The Sony a7S II is priced at $2,998 and available now from B&H Photo.