There is a lot to love about the Sony A7 II. For one, there is no denying its value. Even after five years, you’re getting a lot of camera for your money.
Even when compared to newer models like the A7 III, the A7R IV or the latest mirrorless cameras from Canon and Nikon, the now 5-year-old A7 II holds up surprisingly well. And at around $1,000 for a full-frame camera and a reasonably sharp kit lens, you’d be hardpressed to find a better deal.
But is it any good? Are there any deal breakers? Here are five things I love and hate about the Sony A7 II.
My five favorite things about the A7 II
1. Dynamic range and ISO performance:
One of the Sony’s clearest advantages over Canon, Nikon or Panasonic for that matter is dynamic range. Sony makes some amazing sensors, and they know how to pull detail out of every pixel — gobs of the stuff. I found I could easily recover blown-out highlights or crushed shadows.
When it comes to dynamic range, there really is no competition. Sony is hands down the leader in this category.
And even when you underexpose for the highlights and start pulling detail out of the shadows in Lightroom, it’s surprising how well it holds up.
2. Lens selection:
While Sony was far from the first to the mirrorless scene, they’ve got a huge head start on Nikon and Canon which have only just released their first mirrorless cameras in 2018. This means there are plenty of lenses to pair with your Sony Alpha, including several third-party lenses from Tamron, Sigma and Rokinon.
I’m particularly fond of the Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G. It offers a super useful zoom range and you can easily find it on sale on Amazon for around $1,200.
And if you don’t have another grand to drop on a new lens right away, the kit lens that comes with the A7 II is pretty darn great, if a little slow and plasticky.
If there is one thing Sony does well, it’s autofocus.
On Sony’s newer cameras, the autofocus is downright magic easily locking onto faces, eyes and even animals. In this category, Nikon and Canon are no slouches, but even the A7 II holds up surprisingly well.
While this is one area the A7 II is starting to show its age, its AF system is still miles ahead of anything else you’re going to find for a comparably priced DSLR.
Unlike older Canon or Nikons, Sony’s cameras are packed with custom buttons that can be reconfigured to fit your particular shooting style. In fact, you almost have to customize Sony’s cameras to get the most out of them.
While I appreciate the consistency of being able to pick up Nikon and Canon’s cameras and be able to use them almost immediately, Sony’s cameras, once configured, feel more personal and tailored.
I’ll say this again. The Sony A7 II is not a bad camera and neither are any of the company’s other cameras. And, for the money, you really won’t find anything better.
I still recommend Sonys to my friends when they ask me what camera they should get because of how much camera you get for your money.
What I couldn’t stand about the Sony
While there is a lot to love about the A7 II, it’s far from perfect. Sony has done a ton of work in the five years following its release. Here are some of its weak points.
1. The JPEGs lack character:
I’m going to take a lot of heat for saying this, but I’ve never cared much for the JPEGs that come straight out of the A7 II.
One of the reasons I like Olympus and Canons so much is they have really good color science. Color is a big part of photography. Canon has built its brand around great colors and reliable skin tones, but the same can’t be said about Sony.
All that said, Sonys don’t have bad color science, and according to some tests, their colors, while maybe not as pleasing, are some of the more accurate.
And for many, the dynamic range and ISO performance will be more than enough to offset a few extra minutes of editing in Lightroom.
2. Lens quality:
While I commend Sony for building out a fantastic camera system with plenty of E and FE mount lenses to choose from, the optical quality of Sony’s own lenses can be inconsistent. Especially with the Zeiss lenses, spending more doesn’t always equal better quality optics.
The 35mm Distagon F1.4 — which retails for about $1,600 — is famous for the character of the image it produces. However, many have reported inconsistent quality control and issues with decentering.
This would be forgivable if the lenses most often affected by aberrant optics weren’t also some of Sony’s more expensive pieces of glass. So sure, there is lots of E mount glass to choose from, but finding good glass can be hit and miss.
One bright note is a lot of the third-party glass out there right now is as surgically sharp as it is affordable. Sigma and Tamron’s zooms have proven to be tack sharp wide open at F2.8, and they can be had for between $900 and $1300 — really not bad at all.
3. Menus – Where was that setting?
Comprehensive and poorly organized is the way I’d describe Sony’s menus. I’m not going to get into too much detail about Sony’s menus because I get lost just thinking about them, just know they’re bad.
Come on Sony! It’s been said more times than I can count. Fix your menus.
So if you’re going to pick up a Sony mirrorless, be prepared to spend some time searching through the menus. You’ll probably find what you’re looking for eventually.
4. The body:
Professional photographers are hard on their equipment — they have to be. On a job, they don’t have time to baby their gear. All that matters on a shoot is walking away with usable shots rain or shine, ice or mud and always on deadline.
Because of this, Canon and Nikon, the undisputed kings of the professional camera world, have gotten really good at weather sealing their bodies from water and grit. Unfortunately, Sony didn’t get the memo that their cameras would have to put up with this kind of abuse.
Sony’s cameras are also some of the least ergonomic to use with a lot of sharp angles. The A7 II was an improvement over the original, but it still doesn’t feel great in the hand. That said, I’m told things have gotten much better with the A7R IV, but I haven’t had an opportunity to use one just yet.
5. Battery life:
If you’re considering picking up an A7 II, save yourself the headache and pick up two or three extra batteries — you will need them. And don’t even think about buying third-party batteries to save a buck. I’ve found Sony’s official NP-FW50s last about twice as long as most third-party offerings out there.
On an average shoot — between 200 and 300 photos — I have easily burned through two batteries.
If you don’t mind the additional bulk, you can pick up Sony’s battery grip that will fit two batteries and give you some extra purchase when shooting vertically. If you don’t want to shell out for the official grip, I’ve had great luck with the Meike MK-A7II Pro.
Is the A7 II right for you?
Sony makes some great cameras and the A7 II is no exception. While it isn’t my favorite camera of all time, I can’t help but appreciate it for what it is: A great camera for a fair price.
If you’ve been looking for an affordable way to get into the Sony system, this is a great place to start, especially since good Sony glass ain’t cheap. It may be a 5-year-old camera, but it has held up surprisingly well, especially when it comes to dynamic range and autofocus.
And for the money, you really can’t ask for more.
So, if you’ve been considering an A7 II and don’t plan on dragging your camera through a monsoon, and can live with weak battery life, poor ergonomics and messy menus, you won’t be disappointed.
What do you think?
- Are you a fan of the Sony A7 II?
- Are you considering picking one up?
- What do you love and hate about the A7 II or any of Sony’s cameras?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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