Review Sony A7S II: Nightowl
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.
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.
Sony A7S II list price: 3400 euros
A few notable characteristics of the Sony A7S II are
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
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.
|Until 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.
|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.|
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.
Conclusion Sony A7S II review
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.