Our first date: First impressions of my Sony a7R II

Gary Hart Photography: Flaming Oaks, Sierra Foothills, California

Flaming Oaks, Sierra Foothills, California
Sony a7R II
Tamron 150-600 (Canon-mount with Metabones IV adapter)
1 second
ISO 100

Love at first sight

My Sony a7R II arrived Wednesday, but my schedule limited my use to staying home and familiarizing myself with menus and overall handling. If you’re familiar with Sony’s e-mount mirrorless bodies, you’ll be able to hit the ground running with the a7R II. The menu system is the same, though of course there are few new features.

The buttons and controls have moved a bit from their placement on the original a7 bodies (a7, a7R, a7S), but it’s essentially the same body as the a7 II (released late last year). Blindfolded, it would be difficult  to distinguish the a7R II from the a7 II, and in fact, my Really Right Stuff L-plate (which I ordered several weeks ago), is the a7 II L-plate. I didn’t order the battery grip, but I know the a7 II battery grip fits the a7R II as well.

On the other hand, the a7R II has more heft than the a7R—the body, while still far more compact than my Canon bodies, is definitely larger and heavier than the original a7R body. The grip noticeably larger too. The result is a camera that feels more solid without sacrificing its mirrorless compactness—a definite upgrade.

I find mirrorless so perfectly suited to manual focus (for stationary landscape subjects), and the a7R autofocus so sluggish, that I just stopped using autofocus. I think that will change with the a7R II, as just a few test frames made it clear that the autofocus is vastly improved, both in speed and accuracy—not just for my Sony glass, but for my Canon lenses paired with a Metabones IV adapter (just make sure you’re using the latest Metabones firmware). Manual will remain my primary focus paradigm, but it’s nice to know that autofocus is now a viable option.

Shutter lag

One prime consideration for me is shutter-lag (the time it takes the shutter to engage once the button it pressed). Measure in milliseconds, it’s not a big factor for virtually all uses, but when photographing lightning, every millisecond matters. My Canon 5D Mark III’s shutter lag was decent but not great; the a7R is too slow to even consider for lightning; the a6000 is quite fast; and the a7S is (dare I say) lightning fast. So on the eve of my annual Grand Canyon monsoon trip (for the workshop Don Smith and I do each year), I was quite anxious to know how the a7R II would perform in the shutter lag department.

I don’t have the means to measure the actual shutter lag of a camera, but since I have the shutter lag numbers for the a7S, and have had great success photographing lightning with it already, I just wanted to know know how the a7R II compares the a7S. And I was able to devise a way to test their relative speed. Without going into too much detail, my test involved both cameras set up on a tripod with a Lightning Trigger (the only lightning sensor I’d even consider using—I own two) attached.

With both cameras focused on a timer that recorded milliseconds, I simultaneously triggered each using its Lightning Trigger, then compared the times captured in the images of each camera. They were identical. Just to be sure I ran a second test and again they were identical.

As I write this I’m one day into my Grand Canyon trip and can tell you that I now have empirical data confirming that the a7R II is a great lightning camera, maybe even the best lightning camera. But that’s a story for another day….

Kiss and tell

Thursday night I took my new camera out to one of my favorite sunset spots in the foothills. Sporting her brand new L-plate and 128 GB media card, she was clearly primed for action. This being our first date, I didn’t want to push her too hard, but I could tell she was definitely ready for whatever I asked.

As luck would have it, this turned out to be more than a dry run shoot to test a new camera. The sunset that night was off the charts, so much so that I ended up breaking out a second camera (she didn’t seem to mind that either). I haven’t had a lot of time to play with the images from that night, but am sharing this one here from the very end of the shoot. Despite its appearance, and the rash of fires burning throughout California, no trees were injured in the making of this image. This is just silhouette of a trio of oaks against the sunset, underexposed to enhance the trees’ shape and hold the color in the sky.

My first impressions of the a7R II? I think it’s a relationship that’s going to last (at least until the next version comes out). In addition to the improved focus and increased resolution, in the very brief time we’ve been together, it’s clear that the dynamic range is even better than the phenomenal dynamic range I get from my a7R.

All this, and a great body.

My Sony Gallery (a history of my ten months as a Sony shooter)

Click an image for a closer look, and a slide show. Refresh the screen to reorder the display.

10 Comments on “Our first date: First impressions of my Sony a7R II

  1. Gary, I am patiently waiting at my door as it is supposed to arrive today. I called RRS and ordered the a7ii L plate but they are out of stock so two weeks. I all ready have the Sony 70-300 and am using Metabones now for my Canon Lenses like my 16-35 F2.8 and 24-105.
    Any other suggestions of lenses. And if anyone wants to sell a used a6000, let me know.

  2. Gary–at the moment living the “good life” in Stockholm and looking forward to seeing if my AR-II has made it to Charlotte when I return. Hope to get to try it on a trip with you and Don in the near future.

  3. Looks like Jay’s going to be getting a lovingly used a7r in his Christmas stocking.

  4. Gary, you are a great writer! The new camera is so tempting but have to stick with my Nikon for budget reasons for the next two years. Someday… Cathy


  5. I was getting quite excited near the end of your story but realize that you saw her first… Back to earth, it looks like you have a real winner and deservedly so ! LOVED your write up here – super job as always and what a primo (not to be confused with Louis ) shot good luck you guys!!

  6. Hi Gary. Thanks for your first date impressions. I have the camera and love it for all the new features Sony built into this model vs the A7r. I do have a question for you regarding the A7rII and the Tamron 150-600. I see you’re using the Canon mount and the metabones IV. How is autofocus with that combo? I need a long lens and this has been on my shortlist. Thanks in advance.

  7. Hi Gary, Congratulations on your new A7rII! I’m sure you are putting it through its paces testing it out. The detail it renders must be fantastic. I just received my A7rII and have a question about the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 F-4 lens. I’ve done extensive research and reading about testing on it. For a 4.5 star rating on the lens, there certainly is a surprising amount of negative criticism with its sharpness. My nature and landscape photographs are taken always with a tripod and f-stops between f8, f11 & occasionally f22 for star bursts. What is your take/opinion about this lens as a standard zoom for sharpness on the A7rII? (My Canon standard lens was the 24-105 f-4.) Since you shoot with Sony A7’s I thought your experience and opinion would serve to be a very valuable source of info before deciding on a lens. Very much appreciated! Rita

    Sent from my iPad


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: