My First 60 Days with the Sony A7R II

In Gear, Sony by Matt K44 Comments

Well, I’ve been shooting and posting photos with the Sony Alpha camera for just over a month now. I’ve gotten a ton of questions about it, so I figured a blog post was due. It seems you find a new “Why I Switched to Sony” review and blog post every other day. Best I can do here is just give you my thoughts as a landscape and outdoor photographer who primarily makes his income from education and photography/post-processing training, with some income coming from paid shooting gigs and selling prints. So here goes:

Did I Switch From Nikon?
Yes. I now shoot with my Sony all of the time now. I still have my Nikon D810, and do some video stuff for ON1 so I’ve used it for video, but my landscape, travel and general purpose photography is done with my Sony gear now. A lot of people thought I shot Canon because, when I worked at Kelby, Canon was heavily involved. But that was loaner gear for me to try out, as well as use to balance some of my classes so they weren’t all Nikon heavy. But I didn’t actually own any Canon gear.

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(Sony A7R II and Sony 16-35mm lens)

The Camera and Lenses
I wanted the closest thing to my Nikon D810. I like big megapixels. I may not print everything as big as I could with it, but I like to know it’s there if I want to. Also, it’s just fun to edit those photos. A large part of my photography enjoyment comes in the editing process, and editing those files and seeing that level of detail is just fun. I’m Sorry, not much of a reason to go big-megapixel, but at least I’m being honest with ya’ 😉

Anyway, I ended up going with the Sony A7R II. It’s got 42-megapixels worth of hard-drive filling, big screen viewing, super-sharp, computer-slowing goodness. As for lenses, I went with the trinity of lenses that I’ve shot with for years. The Sony 16-35mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm. I do own a Nikon macro lens and the 85mm f/1.4 but I don’t use them a lot. So I’m not sure whether I’ll replace them on the Sony side of things. Luckily they’re both still good lenses and I can sell them if I need to. I’d probably go with the Macro lens before replacing the 85mm. While that lens produces amazing portraits, I find I use the 70-200 for portraits more anyway. Plus, I don’t shoot a lot of portraits, and there’s no reason to go with an 85mm f/1.4 for landscapes.

IMG_9507

Why the Switch?
There’s a few reasons why. For starters I love what Sony is doing in the industry. They’re really pushing the boundaries, taking feedback, and incorporating that feedback in to the products quickly. It’s a digital world, and Sony recognizes that. There’s apps for your phone that integrate with the camera. They’re engaging the audience. Their website AlphaUniverse (https://alphauniverse.com) is full of content and consistently updated. They have a magazine in print and as a download in an app, if you want it. And hey, I’ll admit it. I’m biased. I shoot with Sony now, so of course I’m going to notice all of the things they’re doing. But the point is, they’re doing a lot of cool things. And let’s not forget that the mirrorless systems are smaller and lighter. As a landscape photographer that always carries my own gear (and sometimes a long way), small and light is a good thing. But…Are they REALLY smaller and lighter? I’d say all totaled it’s about a third less weight in my bag. And of course since they’re smaller, my bag is smaller too.

_DSC0465-Edit
(Sony A7R II and Sony 24-70mm lens)

Is the Camera Too Small?
I’ve read reviews and seen videos that say they feel the camera is too small. They’re used to a big DSLR and holding the smaller Sony’s just feels weird to them. Of course everyone is different, but the smaller camera size wasn’t an issue for me. I’m a tall guy and have pretty decent sized hands, and it feels just fine. However, I did buy the Really Right Stuff L bracket that goes with it. I shot with the Sony for a month before having the bracket, and it felt fine. But I will say the L bracket does make it feel better. Not to mention that because of the square-ness of the Sony’s camera body, the L-bracket looks and fits awesome on it. Way better than any DSLR L bracket I’ve. I know looks aren’t everything, but that bracket fits like a glove and looks like it’s part of the camera.

lplate

So Let’s Talk Features – What I Really Like
Okay let’s get down to features. However, I want to be the first to say here that features come and go. What I mean is that, say XYZ brand has a new feature today. Then, before you know it, ABC brand comes out, and has those features and some better ones. If you followed that line of thinking, you’d switch brands every 18 months. So while I like the features I’m about to talk about, my liking for the overall Sony brand, and where they’re going, means more.

Anyway, here’s my favorites. Most of them are a comparison to what I was shooting (the D810). So I’m not necessarily saying that other cameras don’t have the features. I’m just letting you know what my favorites are:

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) – definitely one of the top ones for me. I love seeing exactly what my photo is going to look like. Just as important to me, as an outdoor shooter, I’m in sunlight many times when shooting. Trying to look at the LCD screen on the back of the camera can be hard when it’s sunny because of all the glare. But looking through the viewfinder you see a perfect rendition of the photo you just took, without all the glare.

Extended Focus Points – Many times when setting up my photo, I move the focus points around to the key areas in the scene. The problem is that most of the time, the focus point won’t go out toward the edges. And if I have a good foreground element in front of me, I want to focus on it. Well, the Sony has a focus point area that extends out toward the edges of the frame so I don’t find myself having this problem anymore.

IMG_9508 copy

Face Detection – I don’t shoot a lot of portraits, but when I do this has come in SOOO handy.

Focus Magnification – I manually focus a lot for my landscape photos. Especially when I have a good foreground element I want to make sure is tack sharp. Well, with the Alpha cameras, when I start to move the focus ring, the LCD automatically zooms in to the targeted area so I can really get a feel for how sharp it’s going to be. And with Focus Peaking (another cool feature), I can get a much better idea of the sharpness I’ll get before I ever take the photo. Just to clarify… Is the camera sharper? No. Is the lens sharper? No. Is the Sony image sharper? No. But the features can help me get a sharper photo or make it easier to do it.

Tilt Screen – Sony obviously isn’t the only camera to have a tilt screen. But my previous cameras didn’t have one so this one is new to me. As an landscape photographer, my camera is sometimes close to the ground. This helps me frame the photo without necessarily getting down too close to the camera.

Smart Remote trigger and Sharing Apps – Sony’s got some cool apps built right in to the camera, and downloadable to your phone. The first is the Smart Remote app so I can use my phone to trigger the camera, and not a remote cable release. The other is a sharing app which is really cool. Let’s face it, we live in a sharing world. With the wi-fi enabled camera, and the app, and your phone, you can take a photo then share directly to your phone. From there, you can post it to Instagram or Facebook almost within seconds after taking the photo. As some one that likes social media, this one is a really nice-to-have for me.

Other Random Stuff
– Like the D810, the camera will shoot down to 50 ISO natively. It sounds like a little thing, but for me this is becoming essential in any camera I shoot for landscapes. Basically, for us tripod landscape guys that like long exposures, lower ISOs can help eliminate the need for a filter since you can squeeze some extra shutter speed length from it.
– Zeiss glass – I’m not sure that the Zeiss glass is really better or not. I’m not a guy that does a lot of techie tests with it. But I can tell you these are some of the best made/feeling lenses you’ll ever hold. They’re smooth and the built quality is awesome. Plus, it is Zeiss after all and, well, that just sounds cool 😉
– It’s got a “reduced-vibration shutter and Silent Shooting mode which helps eliminate camera shake caused by shutter movement”. I don’t know what all that means but I know my photos are damn sharp coming out of this thing.
– It’s got a 5-axis image stabilization system built in to the camera. So even if your lens doesn’t have image stabilization, the camera does.

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(Sony A7 II and Sony 70-200mm lens)

Is the Sony As Good as My D800/D810?
For me, yes. I wouldn’t have made the move if it wasn’t. Now understand, I LOVED my Nikon D810. It’s an incredible camera. But one of the things I’ve loved about the D800/810 is the image quality that comes from it. I’ve shot just about every DSLR and mirrorless camera out there, and the D800/D810 (for landscape photography purposes) are about as good as you can get. Until I shot with the Sony that is. You may or may not have known that much of the sensor technology in the Nikon comes from Sony. So it makes sense that as soon as I saw those Sony raw files, I was hooked because I had the same image quality I had loved about the Nikon. I’ve also been a fan of Sony for a long time, and the release of the A7R had me really close to switching. But the A7R II finally tipped me over to make the move. The reduced weight in my bag for when I hike, as well as the features I mentioned above all factored in to my decision. Plus, as I said before, I just like where Sony is going, and it’s something I wanted to invest in now, rather than wait any longer and invest further in my DSLR gear.

Oh, and if you’re a techie person, then you’ll love the DXO Mark scores for the A7R II. As you can see in the image below it beats everything in it’s class.

dxomark

What’s Missing?
You won’t have to look long to see that one of the key things missing in the Sony Alpha cameras is battery life. These suckers will crank through batteries pretty fast. That LCD is almost always on in some way. Best I can do is give you my experience. On a typical sunrise/sunset shoot I’m out shooting for an hour or so. That will easily eat up at least 50-60% of the battery for me, and more if I stay out longer or do a lot of manual focussing where I’m using the LCD a lot. I invested in a couple of after market batteries for $40 and I just make sure I charge my battery after my shoot.

Lenses do seem to be a bit of a mystery at times. I go with the Sony branded lenses and there’s plenty of them to choose from. But every time I start reading about A mount and E mount and this mount and that mount and metabones adapters and all that I get a little confused. Luckily, I have my good buddy (and Sony Artisan of Imagery) Brian Smith’s number so I just call or text and ask him. If you don’t have his number, his website rocks and he always has lots of good Sony info on it 🙂

The only other thing I really wish it had was an internal bulb timer. I do a lot of long exposures where I want to set my shutter speed for a very specific time (like 75 seconds). Right now I have to use a cable release and a timer. With a bulb-timer feature, it would let me set that in-camera and I wouldn’t need a cable release or timer. My Nikon didn’t have the feature either though, but some of the newer Canon cameras do.

Does the Sony Help Me Take Better Photos?
Absolutely not. I’m not writing this to get anyone to go out and buy a Sony. I’m simply telling a story that a number of people have asked me to tell. I firmly believe that if you put any camera in my hands, I’m going to be able to take as good a photo as I would with any other camera. Here’s an analogy for you. Will a Toyota 4Runner get me from point A to point B, and have all the bells and whistles in it that I need? Yep, just fine. So why do I prefer to drive my Jeep, which is about the same price? Because it works for me. I can do what I want with both vehicles – just like I can take the photo I want with any camera. Both vehicles have similar features right – just like various cameras do. But the layout, look, feel, and overall experience can be different for different people.

My point… don’t go out and buy this camera (or any camera) because you think it’ll make you a better photographer. It absolutely, positively will not. But your camera should make your experiences while taking photos (which is also VERY important), as good as possible. For me, the Sony has been doing that, and I’m really happy with my switch.

Thanks for stopping by. Have a good one!

Comments

  1. Paul Ciura

    Hey Matt,

    Local Tampa resident here as well. Maybe I’ll bump in to you sometime at the Dunedin pier for some long exposure! 🙂

    I have the Sony A7II that I absolutely love it (finally got the uncompressed RAW update on it as well). Use to shoot with a 5DMII before. Initially was on the fence if I should go to Fuji system, but chose Sony and I am happy with my choice.

    I currently only own Sony 24-70 f/4 and I am looking to get the 70-200 f/4 soon for some portraits. Is your 70-200 f/2.8 or f/4?

    Cheers,

    1. salsaguy

      Sony doesn’t make a native f2.8 70-200 lens for the A7 series cameras…yet . only f4 for now. The older A mount is f2.8 but would need the adapter to use it.

  2. Steve Kubik

    Hi Matt –

    Enjoyed the article. I’ve been thinking more and more about digital versus my current Nikon DSLR for landscapes. I would still keep the Nikon gear I have for shooting sports but something lighter as you stated in the article is appealing.

    I was the Landscape Summit a few months ago. I see some of the guys were shooting the Fuji X system. I’d be interested to know if you compared the Sony to the Fuji and what your thoughts were between the two.

    One concern about switching is totally taking a bath on selling my equipment. Where do you sell your equipment? Does eBay or trading in with say B&H make sense?

    On an unrelated topic. Planning a trip to Italy in March. I don’t want to take my laptop with me. Any thoughts on the best way to backup my SD cards?

    Thanks for taking the time post.

    Steve

    1. Paul Ciura

      Steve,

      Check out fredmiranda.com. I have had good luck selling my used gear there. For me, Ebay is not what it use to be. I tend to stay away for selling, but I would still buy from there.

    2. A.D.

      Steve,

      I backup my SD cards to my ipad mini with the SD card adapter from Apple, then back that up to a SanDisk iXpand flash drive. Depending on internet access and the number of pictures you’re backing up, you could also go from the ipad to Dropbox, icloud, etc.

  3. Steven

    Nice review Matt. There is always something to be jealous of in one camera brand or another. If I had enough disposable income I’d have one of each of EVERYTHING! But alas, I’m not Moose. 🙂

    I’ve stuck with my D800 all this time and continued to make good images with it. We all know it’s not the camera, it’s the person behind it that ultimately makes the image. Only our friends and non-photog relatives who think it’s that “really good camera” that makes them go ‘wow’… I love the idea of the AR7II and its compact, mirrorless goodness. Aesthetically it looks and must feel great in the hand. I think anyone who would consider switching should rent one. Check it out for yourself for a week and see if it works for your photography. After reading this I’m sure I will… In the end it should fit what you shoot and fit into your style and workflow as a shooter.

    Thanks for the honesty and well thought out comments on it. I’m glad its working for your photography… The images you’re turning out with it are stunning and an inspiration. Thanks Matt.

    1. Author
      Matt K

      You’re very welcome Steven. You can’t go wrong with that D800. It’s an awesome camera. Even though it’s nearly 4 years old, there’s not many cameras today that can even hold up to that one. You have the right idea. Enjoy photography and make great photos! 🙂

  4. Robert B Moulton

    I loved your review on the Sony A7RII. I switched from Nikon in late August and agree with you on the features and qualities of camera and lenses. Have you tried a Shutterboss for long exposures. I bought the correct connecting cord and the unit works great on it. Also the new style RRS L bracket makes attaching the timer quicker

  5. Sharon Brownlow

    Hi Matt,
    Very timely article as I have doing a lot of research on mirrorless cameras. This Sony A7R II seems to stand above all the rest. I have been shooting with my Nikon D800 since the year they came out. I didn’t think I would ever want anything else. The dynamic range with all those pixels is truly amazing. However, I have become weary of carrying all that weight around. I would have to choose just one lens to carry while hiking, and the tripod to support it is also heavy. So the need for me was to find a camera that I can get just as good pictures for travel and hiking with a lot less weight.
    The lens question has me stumped though. For me I have always felt like the lens is more important then the camera for great quality. Do you feel like the Sony 24-70 is as good as the Nikon 24-70? The prime lenses are probably best, but not always practical for landscape. It’s hard to zoom with your feet on the edge of a cliff.I will probably still keep my D800 for now unless I find in the future I’m reaching for it less and less. Thank you so much for all your comments about the Sony. I don’t anyone whose photography I trust more for advise about a camera. I have been reading your blog since you were with Kelby. Your pictures posted here are stunning….they look very northwest.

    Sharon

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Thanks Sharon. I didn’t use the Nikon 24-70. I used the Tamron 24-70 instead.
      I haven’t done a comparison of the lenses to see if one is better than the other. All I can say is I’ve been happy with the Sony 24-70. But I hope to do some comparisons over the holidays and I’ll let you know. 🙂

  6. Jeff Martyka

    We all learned at the Great Smoky Mountains Photography Summit that your Mom carries your gear…so its nice to see you lighten the load for her! 😉

    I’ve been carrying the 90 macro with the 16-35 a lot more lately on day hikes instead of the 70-200. Smaller, lighter and very nice quality. Granted…I’m mostly in the woods around here.

    Still miss the 24-70 that went over the waterfall…will need to replace that one.

  7. Dan

    Thanks for the review Matt. I also switched to the A7RII from my Nikon D800. Both take great images and you are correct its not the equipment but the person that holds it. I’m glad I switched and look forward to the future with Sony.

  8. Sundeep Sembi

    Great article but I must admit to some surprise that you bothered with the 24-70. I have found it a decidedly average lens.

    Do look at the zeiss Batis 25 and 85 – they are stellar lenses. I have also loved using voigtlanders on my A7r and A7r2 . The 15 mm MK III and 21mm and 40 mm are brilliant. Delighted you have switched to Sony – I will look forward to more articles .

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Thanks Sundeep. Not sure I’ll go with the Batis 25 or 85. For landscapes, I really need something that zooms. Primes take up a lot of space and are very limiting.

      1. Sundeep Sembi

        If you get a chance to try one give the voigtlander 15mm MK III a go – it is small and light and tack sharp with outstanding colours . Smaller still is the 21mm f4 scopar – it is a tiny little lens . I hear what you are saying about bulk but I know you will be impressed .

  9. Dave Rogers

    Matt, great perspective and an excellent review. One comment though. Since you are lugging around a body and three lenses plus a tripod and what ever other accessories you need it seems unlikely that you will notice the 9 ounces difference between the A7S II and the D810. I currently use a D800 and really like the A7S II but the weight difference wouldn’t be a factor in a switch.

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Hey Dave. I agree. It’s not a huge difference but it does make an impact. You have close to a pound on the camera body. Then all of your lenses are smaller and lighter. Filters are smaller and lighter. Again, I never said it was a large difference. But it is about a third less weight and you’d be amazed at the small size of the camera bag I’m able to use for it. But if you were some one with just a camera and an all purpose zoom lens, VS. another DSLR and one of their all purpose lenses, I’d be the weight difference would feel significant.

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  11. N Stone

    I switched from a Nikon 610 to the Sony A7mk2 this year and am so glad I did. I love focus peaking because I have old eyes that sometimes betray me in focusing. The lighter weight means I carry my camera with me far more often. I found the 610 with a 200 mm lens was too much for me to handhold and get many in focus shots with AF; I have no such issues with my Sony. My Sony is better in low light as well. I am now trying to figure out how to afford the A7s mk2 so I can start astrophotography. I don’t miss my Nikon at all.

  12. Greg Beliera

    Hi Matt,
    Thanks for your review. I have been debating on making the full switch to the Sony a7. I currently use the Sony a6000 and I love the dynamic range it has without having to bracket shots for my landscape photography. I can imagine what the a7 would be like. But, I also shoot sports and find that my Canon 7D with my Canon lenses do a great job with focusing on my moving subjects….something that I think the Sony is still lacking on. I would love to make the full switch but for now I have to have both! Great post and I have always loved your non technical practical reviews on gear.
    Thanks,
    Greg

    1. salsaguy

      Don’t get rid of the a6000. Keep it. Great bang for your buck camera and gives the extra 1.5x crop factor for sports/wildlife/portrait shots. Just save up for the full frame a7 R Mark 2. And lenses

  13. Daniel F.

    Hello Matt, regarding your intervallometer, the latest smart remote app has bulb included with exposure time display. Not perfect, but at least something.

  14. Angie

    Hi Matt! I’ve been a fan of yours for a very long time and love this review. I also recently started using the Sony A7RII with a metabones adapter for my Canon lenses and love it! I do still miss some of the offerings of my DSLR (intervalometer, fps with larger buffer) but the manual focus assist on my Sony, its size/weight, dynamic range and its large sensor make it far superior!

  15. Johnny Boyd

    Matt,

    I now where that first photo was shot in the Smokies but was the second shot doqn the left trail after crossing the bridge?

    Nice work as always buddy hope you and the family have a great Christmas.

  16. Alan

    Hey Matt – One question that comes to mind w/ mirrorless for me: I go out of my way on a DSLR to limit ‘mirror-induced-shake’ (delayed shooting, something to dampen on longer lenses &c). Were you ever bothered by that – and have you noticed a difference in your shooting w/out having to worry about that? Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Hey Alan – was never really bothered by it. I did tests a couple years ago with mirror lock up, etc… it was nearly impossible even at 500% zoom for me to see any difference so I stopped worrying about it. Hope that helps 🙂

  17. Ron Shephard

    An excellent article that echoed my sentiments regarding Sony and photography in general. Sony seem to be innovative and creative while other manufacturers just seem to be tweeking the cameras they have.

  18. Ivan Warrington

    i changed from Canon to Fuji XT-1 for some of the same reasons. Mainly smaller and fantastic glass. i love the Fuji System, beautiful detail.

  19. Kevin Z

    Hi Matt, Just wondered if you use the F4 or F2.8 versions of those lenses? Quite a difference in Price! Thanks for the information!

  20. Francis

    How does the Sony A7R II suit shooting HDR when doing 7/9 bracketed shots?

    This is what put me off from considering Olympus OMD style cameras since I do a lot of architectural photography doing bracketed shots (typically 9 shots). From my previous research, mirrorless cameras topped out at doing 3 brackets with some rather irritating quirks (can’t use the self-timer to auto bracket, 3 bracket limit).

    1. Author
      Matt K

      It’ll let you do continuous self-timer brackets for: 1-stop (up to 9 images), 2-stops (up to 5 images), 3-stops (up to 5 images).

  21. Tim M

    Hey Matt,
    I’m curious if you have been able to see a noticeable difference in the dynamic range between your A7R II and your D810? Particularly in the shadows. At this point, that is the one thing that is giving me hesitation about the same switch in systems.

    Thank you for your insights,
    Tim

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Hey Tim. They’re virtually the same. Not sure if you know, but the sensors in your D810 come from Sony 🙂 That’s one of the reasons that I made the switch

  22. Bruce

    Hey Francis:

    I shoot the Olympus em1 and you can create a preset in camera that lets you shoot as many bracketed images as your u want with a timer delay. I have it set for 5 images with 1 ev stops after a 5 second delay. Works great. I don’t us the in camera HDR settings.

  23. salsaguy

    Awesome article and info Matt.so glad you finally made the switch to the good side;) I agree Brian Smith, and Jason Lanier are some of the greatest Sony Artisan of Imagery guys out there and have a lot of great images using Sony gear to back up their claims. Check out their sites and videos for sure. Enjoy your A7R2. Very jealous. Oh btw I think Sony now has a timer/emote app to let you get more than 30 seconds on a shot. Check the store.

  24. Tom

    I noticed in your article that you said you use your a7RII for sunrise/sunset photography.

    I’m in the final stages of migrating from a Canon 5D Mk III system to an a7RII and also enjoy doing sunrise/sunset photography.

    Canon issued what some have called a “CYA” recommendation to basically never point a Canon camera at the sun when using live view. On the 5D Mk III it’s a little hard to precise focus without using live view, so I used a few inconvenient tricks to minimize exposing the sensor to the sun in live view mode.

    I’ve seen posts from others on the web that basically say not to worry about it with the a7RII.

    As the a7RII is always in live view mode and the sensor is always exposed to the sun, do you have any concern regarding pointing the a7RII at the sun for sunrise/sunset photography??

  25. David Medina

    Hi Matt

    Thanks for the article. I too switched from Nikon D800 to the Sony E system. I do love all things Nikon (I have shot with Nikon for 38 years) but as you said, I love what Sony is doing more.

    I do have a question for you. I watched your presentation at the Sony booth during Photoplus NYC. I know you are a master of Lightroom. I have issues when I use LR to process Sony Raw files (does not matter if they are uncompressed or compressed). It shows the file rougher that in Capture One, like if it had more noise in LR and smoother in C1. Have you noticed anything like that (I call it confetti look lol). Any suggestion as to how to improve how LR render Sony files? (hint: a good tutorial/webinar…)

    Thanks for your time and response.

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