A while back, I made it no secret that the Sony A7 ii wasn’t the camera for me. I wasn’t alone in my assessment either, even The Verge claimed it was ‘The Next Great Camera, Someday’. My opinions weren’t based on the sensor, the button layouts, the size or weight, it was all about the first-party lens selections. Sony’s E-Mount platform felt either stalled or ignored when it came to professional lenses, and I’m not sure which one is worse. There were (and still are) a pile of lens adapters while allowed photographers to use the great lenses they already owned on the Sony system, with the downsides not being able to use autofocus, plus the DSLR lenses were gigantic compared to the diminutive body of the A7. In March of 2015 Sony brought updated lenses to the table, including an amazing Ziess 35mm f/1.4. There have been indicators that Sony is working on a 24-70 f/2.8 - which may not seem like much to some people but it most assuredly is a signal that Sony is going to support the E Mount platform beyond consumer needs. They already have a 24-70 f/4, E Mount, but most professional photographers need the ability and option of the wider f/2.8 aperture.
So that was all just a way to explain how time can bring change to a platform like the Sony A7 series. Now allow me to give you a little more background of where I’m coming from when I’m giving my real world review. Until last year, I would have considered myself a ‘Nikon guy’ - and that was until I switched to mirrorless. The Fuji X-T1 kicked me off the DSLR train. I’m in love with mirrorless for 2 reasons: what an EVF can do over an OVF and the reduced size/weight. I’m a little unorthodox in the sense that I don’t seem to pledge my allegiance to any one particular camera manufacturer, I just want whatever works best for me on whatever shoot I’m working on in a particular day. I split my time between the Fuji and Sony system all depending on the circumstances of a shoot.
OK, now for the real-world review. As the photographer for a University, I get to cover all sorts of things - over Thanksgiving break a group of students gave up their breaks, drove down to New Orleans and helped people rebuild their houses destroyed a decade ago in Hurricane Katrina. I had been using the Sony A7 ii for about a month before this shoot so I had become acquainted to its characteristics. What I mean by that is how it focuses, its Fn button layout, what to expect with battery life, and all the little things you learn about a camera after you’ve been using it for a while. I packed my bag, hopped on a flight, and showed up ready to take some pictures. But let me back up - all I packed for this trip was the A7 ii, the Zeiss 35 mm f/1.4, and 2 spare batteries. No other lenses, no cases, no tripod, no lights, etc.
Let’s talk negatives. Focusing is great, but not perfect. I was so spoiled shooting with a DSLR and I didn’t even know how good I had it when it came to my camera’s autofocusing ability. The Fuji’s AF ability is great, but only if your subject is static. It can’t keep up with a moving target, even after their latest firmware update. The Sony blows the Fuji out of the water when it comes to autofocusing on a moving subject and you’re set on continuous AF. However, it doesn’t beat the DSLR. The DSLR can lock AF in AF-C mode in just about any light other than darkness. Granted, I haven’t tried the A7s ii, so maybe that one is better than the A7 ii in regards to AF ability. Someone who’s tried that particular model would have to inform me on the differences. The other negative I noticed is the battery life, but seriously, the battery is constantly driving one of two displays. We’ve been spoiled by our DSLR’s battery life because it essentially sips the battery until the user views an image on the display. Mirrorless cameras aren’t sipping, they’re chugging - the EVF needs lots of power, and so does the back display. That being said, every review I read says ‘expect 350 shots or so’. Maybe its just the way I shoot, but I shot about 1,400 photos on the first day of the shoot and I still had 40% battery remaining. I’m a compulsive battery saver though, I turn the camera on right when I need it, then off again right when I’m done. Not everyone shoots that way, but that’s how I’ve been able to maximize battery life on the camera.
I think the most positive aspect of the A7 ii is its image quality. When you think about it, the end result is the one that matters the most. After that, it’s all about how pleasing/simple/intuitive was the experience of capturing that great shot. I think the images here will speak for themselves regarding what the A7 ii is capable of in a photojournalistic setting. It’s great. It’s incredible. It’s so darn good that the camera just fades into the background and lets me do my work. The other half of this equation is the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4. The lens is a bit bulky for my taste, but I guess there’s no other way to get a 35mm lens with a huge aperture any smaller, otherwise Sony would have figured out how to do it. The lens’ color reproduction is stellar, it focuses great, its bokeh is beautiful. There’s really not much more to say.
I don’t know if this was helpful to anyone, but I hope it is. I know that when I search for reviews of cameras and lenses, I really just want to see the images someone produced with it. I can deal with annoying menus and other weird characteristics of a camera, but just show me the final results and I’ll know whether the camera is right for me or not.