Sony

Review Sony A7S II: Nightowl

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It does not often happen that I am surprised while testing a camera. I have been testing cameras for more than 10 years already. In all that time, the press releases have been shouting that the newest camera is even better than the last one. "Camera X is the most versatile, user-friendly pixel monster with which you can share your creative pictures easily with friends via social media, with unparalleled realistic color reproduction, fantastic dynamic range and unprecedented detailing."
It’s usually different in practice.

Sony A7S II: "Out of darkness cometh light".

But the Sony A7S II was a pleasant surprise. It took guts to release a (second version of a) 12-megapixel system camera at the end of 2105, in an era when some photographers were waiting in agony for the first SLR with a 100-megapixel sensor.

My expectation was that the Sony A7S II would be—even more than the Sony 7S—a fantastic camera for the 4K videographer. In comparison with the Sony A7s, the efficient 5-axis full-frame sensor image stabilization in the A7S II is a real plus. With every Sony FE lens review, we show how well the Sony IBIS (In-body image stabilization) works. The great thing about IBIS is that it also works if you use an older lens without image stabilization via an adapter on the Sony A7S II. Many videographers experiment with older lenses, searching for a unique character of the image or a great bokeh.
The ability to save 4K 30p directly in the camera on an SD card makes the A7S II a more versatile video camera than the 7S.

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Sony A7s II more versatile than Sony A7S

WAs far as build quality is concerned, the A7R and the A7S II are equals. Very good. Given the high image quality of, for example, a Sony A7R II (we have not yet reviewed the A7 II), I suspected that it would be difficult for the Sony A7S II to stake out its own position as a photo camera in the ample camera selection of the moment.
Both the Sony A7 II (more pixels and less expensive) and the Sony A7R II (even more pixels) looked like good candidates for stealing potential buyers from the A7S II. I could think of a couple of competitors from other camera brands as well. I was wrong.

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Sony A7S II list price: 3400 euros

A few notable characteristics of the Sony A7S II are

  • Full frame sensor (35.6 x 23.8 mm)
  • Electronic viewfinder with an exceptionally large image (effective viewfinder magnification: 0.78)
  • Big ISO range: 100-102,400 ISO; expandable to ISO 50-409,600
  • 5-axis in-body image stabilization
  • 4K, 30p, 100M video where each pixel is read out without merging the pixels ("pixel binning")
  • Professional video features: S-Gamut3, Cine/S-Log3, Gamma Assist Display, Zebra Function, Full HD 120 fps for 4x/5x slow motion
  • Shutter with a lifespan of 500,000 shots (100K to 200K is usual)
  • Wi-Fi® andNFC compatible

The Sony A7 series strongly resemble each other in design and appearance. For ergonomics, button lay-out, build quality and more, we refer to our Sony A7 R II review.In particular, the placement of the video recording button I still find difficult to operate. 

AF speed & light sensitivity

AFspeed

In the lab and in practice, the Sony A7 S II stunned us with its AF accuracy, speed and light sensitivity.

VAccording to the specifications for the Sony A7S II (100 ISO with an f/2 lens), the AF (which also has 169 AF points, ~120 more than its predecessor) works down to -4 EV. That is distinguishing characteristic relative to many cameras from other brands. The Canon 1Dx II (the best Canon SLR as far as AF sensitivity is concerned), according to the specifications, goes down to -3EV (100 ISO). We still have to test whether the camera actually lives up to that.

We test the AF of cameras in practice and in our lab, where we give all cameras equal chances. This is because whether, how fast and how well a camera focuses depends in part on the contrast of the subject. In the lab test the Sony A7S II with a Sony FE 55 mm f/1.8 with a great deal of light (> 4EV) appeared to focus as fast as and more accurately than an SLR. A bit slower than and as accurately as Panasonic cameras. In low light (<-2 EV) the Sony A7S II still reacts and focuses accurately where all other cameras have given it up.

Another point that is often missed is the accuracy of the exposure meter in extremely low light. With the Sony A7S II, the exposure meter still works at -3EV. The exposure meter of the Canon 1 Dx II, according to the specifications, works down to 0 EV.  

Sony's 5-axis SteadyShot In-body stabilization

In this video from Sony on YouTube, the 5 ways the image is stabilized (X, Y, yaw, pitch & roll) is made beautifully clear. The number of axes on which the image can be stabilized varies by brand. The success of the Olympus and Sony image stabilization is probably partly thanks to the large number (5) of axes on which stabilization is done. Five-axis image stabilization is of extra importance for video recordings, because, for example, turning on the optical axis produces a horizon that won’t sit still. When taking a picture, you can easily straighten the horizon. With a video, that is more complicated.

CameraStuffReview shows the results of the image stabilization test in the lens tests. If you want to see how good the 5-axis image stabilization works, then look, for example, at the review of the Sony FE 24-70 mm f/2.8G Master or the Sony FE 55 mm f/1.8

 

14-bit RAW

UncompressedRAWUntil very recently, Sony turned compressed RAW files into 12-bit files. A Sony A7 camera processes files in 14 bits, but the RAW files were not stored in 14 bits. You had no control over that as a user. Most photographers will probably never see a visible quality loss and were/are quite satisfied with the compressed Sony RAW files.

But in situations with high contrast differences, you can sometimes find a visible quality difference after editing With a recent firmware update, Sony has added the option to save RAW files as uncompressed 14-bit files as well. We did this Sony α7S II testing with uncompressed, 14-bit RAW files. An uncompressed RAW file from the A7S II is 25 MB in size: more than three times smaller than a RAW file from the Sony A7R II. For those who seldom make prints larger than A4, the smaller files from the Sony A7S II—even the uncompressed 14-bit files—are a blessing: not only do you need less storage space, the image processing is also faster. 

High image quality

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Sony A7S II & Sony EF 55 mm f/1.8, 100 ISO, f/1.8, 1/8000
What is great about the jpg files that are stored in the camera is the combination of careful noise suppression and sharpening specifically at the edges. In print, the Sony A7S II is not an unchallenged ruler when it comes to signal-to-noise ratio, because for prints that are not too large (A4), the size of the sensor (which, after all, determines how much light is captured by the sensor) and technological innovation (the BSI sensor of the Sony A7R II) are more important than the pixel size.

High dynamic range

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Sony A7S II + Sony FE 55 mm f/1.8 @ f/2, 102,800 ISO, 1/400 sec 

The Sony A7S II achieves the highest score for dynamic range of all cameras that we have reviewed so far.

The total dynamic range of a camera is, certainly at low ISO values, much less interesting than the dynamic range that is usable for the photographer. The usable dynamic range is limited by the signal-to-noise ratio in the dark areas. A camera with a high dynamic range makes it possible to do significant editing to a shot, as in the night shot above, without noise becoming disruptively visible.
At the low ISO values, the Sony A7S II does not stand out, or to a lesser degree relative to other cameras with a high dynamic range, such as the Sony A7R II and the Nikon D810. At high ISO values, the Sony A7S II makes the highest score for dynamic range, so that this camera now stands at the top of our list of reviews for dynamic range.

Color reproduction

 DSC2769 Panorama

DThe color reproduction of both the RAW and jpg files in daylight or with flash is good. The differences between the image styles that you can use for the jpg conversion are greater than the differences between the accuracy of different cameras. Only in artificial light do we see real differences between cameras. The automatic white balance struggled with that a bit. With the blue colors, the reproduction is good in artificial light, but for the colors with a red component (red, orange and magenta), the colors were clearly too saturated. In and of itself, no real problem if you set the white balance in artificial light yourself, or photograph in RAW so that you can adjust the white balance afterwards without a loss of quality, as in the panorama above, where the white blossom became quite orange in the original shots. Thanks to the 5-axis IBIS and the low noise at high ISO with the Sony A7S II, this shot could be made without a tripod with a 25 mm lens, a shutter time of 1/13 sec and 12,800 ISO.

Minikleurdaglicht Minikleurkunstlicht

Noise

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King of the night. The shot above is approximately what I saw when I walked through the nocturnal animal enclosure in Dierenpark Amersfoort. Two eyes peered out at me from out of the darkness. That appeared, when I turned on the Sony A7S II (move your mouse over the shot above), to be four eyes. Looking through the viewfinder, I took a picture at ISO 100,000, where the camera still focused as though it were daylight: no problem. The partial enlargement is an edited RAW shot that is enlarged to 100%. As far as I’m concerned, 100,000 ISO is a bridge too far, but sometimes you have no choice. I cannot easily name any other camera that offers image quality this good at 100,000 ISO.
If you are really interested in video, then take a look at the first impression of the Sony A7S II on EOSHD. and the videos in the Sony A7S II review on Cameralabs. I only made a couple of video recordings with the Sony A7S II, and those did not disappoint as far as image quality is concerned. But there is so much to say and to test about the video quality of this camera that you really have to make a separate review for it. Unfortunately, I do not have the time for that at the moment.
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Advanced video options

With the Sony A7S II, you can make 4K recordings with a speed of 30 frames per second (30p, 100M) in the XAVC S format. For both 4K and Full HD, no pixel binning is used, so that you make maximal use of the big sensor and do not have any trouble from moiré. This camera has very advanced video options, such as S-Gamut3, Cine/S-Log3, now with the Gamma Assist Display, so that you do not have to record with the flat S-log images on your screen or in your viewfinder. Click here for a pdf from Sony, in which the new Picture Profiles S-log3 and Cine style are further explained.
Further, the Sony A7S II has expanded Zebra Function for displaying (possible) over-exposed areas in frame, and Full HD 120 fps recording for 4x/5x slow motion. Relative to its predecessor, it is a big plus point that you no longer need an external recorder for 4K; you can save the 4K recordings directly on the SD card. 
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Conclusion Sony A7S II review

Sony A7S II: unbeaten above 400 ISO. Photo & video.

My expectation that this would be a fantastic camera for the 4K videographer was fulfilled. The large sensor surface area of the Sony A7S II is practically entirely used for 4K video recordings. That delivery gorgeous, noise-free video images without artifacts like moiré and aliasing. I have not looked at rolling shutter, but given the enormous data volume that the sensor has to process for 4K shots, it is not surprising that 4K shots have a greater chance of rolling shutter than Full HD shots. So far, no surprises.

That the resolution of a 12-megapixel camera is less high that many other modern system cameras is also not a surprise. For those who seldom ake a print at A4 size or larger, this con is also a pro. Working witih smaller files saves a great deal of disc space and image editing is faster.  

Compare the Sony A7S II with another camera:

Or check our overview of all reviewed cameras, including test results for RAW and jpg files.

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Pro
Year:2015
Overall score:8.8
Resolution:7.0
Dynamic Range:9.9
Noise:8.5
Color:6.8
Whitebalance:8.0
Megapixels:12
Sensor:FF
Sensor magn.:0.78
fps:-
Weight (gram):584
MSRP NL (Euro):3400

 

Pros

  • High image quality, certainly at high ISO values
  • 100-102,400 ISO; range expandable to ISO 50-409,600
  • Fast, accurate and light-sensitive AF
  • Beautiful 4K video, that is stored in-camera
  • Incl. reserve battery

Cons

  • Limited resolution
  • 300 shots on 1 battery charge
  • List price over 3,000 euros

The surprise came for me when using the Sony A7S II as a photo camera. Although the Sony A7R II nearly ruined the party for the Sony 7S II. Thanks to a more modern BSI sensor, the Sony A7R II comes close to the signal-to-noise ratio and dynamic range of the Sony A7S II, despite a larger number of megapixels (43 vs 12). If you often want to make enlargeents, then a Sony A7R II—because of the higher resolution—is a more obvious choice. Certainly at lower ISO settings, the signal-to-noise ratio of the Sony A7S II is not outstanding relative to the Sony A7R II or a Nikon D810.  

On the pixel level (read: anyone who primarily displays images on the internet or screen), that is different. If you look at photos made with the Sony A7S II on a screen, then you will be pleasantly surprised by the high signal-to-noise ratio and the high dynamic range. Even at big enlargements. Years ago, I was charmed by the image quality of the Nikon D700: just 12 megapixels on a full-frame sensor at low ISO values delivers files that are so beautifully clean that you can enlarge them very well without having problems with disruptive artifacts. I now have even more understanding for photographers who deliberately choose a camera with small, high-quality files.

At low ISO values, shots made with the Sony A7R II approach the quality of the Sony A7S II if you carefully shrink them to 12 megapixels. Perhaps the A7R II shrunken to 12 is even better. But at higher ISO values, the Sony A7S II wins. That starts (tentatively) as low as at 400 ISO.

For those who want to take pictures in the dark of night, I recommend a Nikon D5 or a Sony A7S II. Both cameras not only have a high signal-to-noise ratio and a high dynamic range at ISO 6400 and higher, they are also able to focus and set the exposure accurately with very little light. I do not know any camera that focuses as fast and accurately in the dark as the Sony A7S II. And that delivers equally well exposed, noise-free shots with beautiful colors under those conditions. As far as I’m concerned, the Sony A7S II, as a video and photo camera, is king of the night.

Ivo Freriks
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.

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