Initial Hands On: Sony a7II With 5 Axis Image Stabilization

On November 20th, 2014 Sony surprised the photography world with the announcement of the second generation of the full frame a7 mirrorless camera, known creatively as the a7II, which retails for $1698. While this announcement caught even the Sony rumors sites off guard in terms of timing, the big surprise was that Sony had managed to fit 5 axis in body stabilization into in a small mirrorless body with a full frame sensor, a first for the industry. While Olympus has has similar technology for a while, it has mostly been used in its mirco 4/3rds cameras, with great results. Needless to say, when I heard about this camera, I got excited. Sony was kind enough to send me a unit to review, so here we are.

Sony a7II Press Image
While my Sony a7r and a7s do great in a variety of situations, I have been eager to get my hands on a lightweight full frame camera that could handle shooting in challenging situations, such as low light or wildlife photography. While the a7s has amazing af capabilities in low light, it is still limited to 12mp, where we have double that with the a7II. On top of that, one of Sony’s bigger gaps in their mirrorless ecosystem is support for sports and wildlife shooters. Even though this camera is regulated to a max FPS of 5, I am hopeful that the 5 axis image stabilization will help when using longer telephoto lenses, specifically for wildlife photography.

Ultimately I still have plenty of testing to do with this camera, but I wanted to open things up to all of you. My full in-depth review of this body will come in the next week or so, but if you have specific questions that you want me to answer in the review, please leave in the comments below. Instead of tracking them down via each different social platform, it would help to have all the questions you have about this camera in one place.

Whats New

I will cover the specs of this camera at the bottom of this post, but wanted to quickly cover what is new about this camera compared to the Sony a7.

Sony a7 vs a7ii

Sony a7 vs a7ii

  • While it uses the same 24.3mp Exmor CMOS Image Sensor and BIONZ X Image Processor, it has improved metering performance which is now possible down to a rated -1 EV.
  • 5 Axis IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization) allows for up to 4.5 stops of stabilization. This works with all lenses, both native and 3rd party (via manually setting the focal length via a menu option)
  • Has a 40% faster start up time with near “instant on”
  • Enhanced AF algorithm that improves performance by 30% over the previous generation. The AF system can more accurately predict subject movement (with 1.5x more accuracy).
  • New Lock-on AF tracking to dramatically improve accuracy and stability.
  • Access to use the XAVC S Format for recording videos as well as S-Log2 Gamma (with a minimum ISO of 1600)
  • Improved Rear LCD in terms of resolution (1,228.8k vs 921.6k)
  • Magnesium Alloy Construction that is thicker than the first generation
  • Redesigned grip, shutter release button and an additional custom function button
  • All metal lens mount contacts, for a more secure fitting for lenses and adapters against the body

Initial Thoughts

One of the first things I noticed about the Sony a7II is the difference in weight. It certainly feels heavier than its first generation siblings. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the overall build does feel much more solid. As for the new layout of the body, I love it. With a more prominent grip and slightly thicker body, the a7II feels better in my hands than all of the other a7 series bodies. At 6’3, I have pretty large hands which makes using some mirrorless cameras a challenge. The new placement of the shutter button is also a very welcome change.

Top down view of the Sony a7ii

Top down view of the Sony a7ii

While I am used to the shutter button on my a7r and a7s, the new shutter release button not only feels more natural in its new position, the button itself feels more responsive. It is larger and better built as well, making it easier to press down. I will have to get used to the double custom function buttons on the top of the body, but if there is one thing I have been hounding Sony about over the last year, it is to give users more customizable options. Now instead of three custom C buttons, we have four now, so it is a step in the right direction. I can’t wait till this style of body comes to the next generation a7r and a7s.

Sony a7II with Sony 55 1.8 fe

Sony a7II with Sony 55 1.8 fe

While the camera is certainly faster to turn on, I wouldn’t exactly say it has an “instant on” feature. It still has to wait a quarter of second from when I flip the on switch. Either way, there is certainly an improvement.

Specs


Imaging
Lens Mount Sony E-Mount
Camera Format Full-Frame
Pixels Actual: 24.7 Megapixel
Effective: 24.3 Megapixel
Max Resolution 24MP: 6000 x 4000
Aspect Ratio 3:2, 16:9
Sensor Type / Size CMOS, 35.8 x 23.9 mm
File Formats Still Images: JPEG, RAW
Movies: AVCHD Ver. 2.0, MPEG-4, XAVC S
Audio: AAC LC, Dolby Digital 2ch, Linear PCM (Stereo)
Bit Depth 14-bit
Dust Reduction System Yes
Memory Card Type SDXC
SDHC
SD
Memory Stick PRO Duo (High Speed)
Memory Stick PRO HG-Duo
Memory Stick XC-HG Duo
Image Stabilization Sensor-Shift, 5-Way
AV Recording
Video Recording Yes
Resolution 1920 x 1080: 60 fps, 30 fps, 24 fps
1440 x 1080: 30 fps
640 x 480: 30 fps
Video Format XAVC S
1920 x 1080p / 60 fps (50 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 30 fps (50 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 24 fps (50 Mbps)
AVCHD
1920 x 1080p / 60 fps (28 Mbps)
1920 x 1080i / 60 fps (24 Mbps)
1920 x 1080i / 60 fps (17 Mbps)
AVCHD
1920 x 1080p / 24 fps (24 Mbps)
1920 x 1080p / 24 fps (17 Mbps)
MP4
1440 x 1080 / 30 fps (12 Mbps)
640 x 480 / 30 fps (3 Mbps)
Aspect Ratio 16:9
Video Clip Length Up to 29 Minutes
Audio Recording Built-in Mic: With Video, Stereo
Focus Control
Focus Type Auto
Focus Mode Continuous-servo AF (C), Direct Manual Focus (DMF), Manual Focus (M), Single-servo AF (S)
Autofocus Points Phase Detection: 117
Contrast Detection: 25
Viewfinder/Display
Viewfinder Type Electronic
Viewfinder Size 0.5″
Viewfinder Pixel Count 2,359,296
Viewfinder Eye Point 27.00 mm
Viewfinder Coverage 100%
Viewfinder Magnification Approx. 0.71x
Diopter Adjustment - 4 to +3 m
Display Screen 3″  Tilting  LCD (1,228,800)
Screen Coverage 100%
Exposure Control
ISO Sensitivity 100-25600 (Extended Mode: 50-25600)
Shutter Type: Electronic & Mechanical
Speed: 1/8000 – 30 second, Bulb Mode
Metering Method Center-weighted average metering, Multi-zone metering, Spot metering
Exposure Modes Modes: Aperture Priority, Auto, Manual, Programmed Auto, Scene Selection, Shutter Priority, Sweep Panorama
Metering Range: EV -1.0 – EV 20.0
Compensation: -5 EV to +5 EV (in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps)
White Balance Modes Auto, Cloudy, Color Temperature, Color Temperature Filter, Custom, Daylight, Flash, Fluorescent (Cool White), Fluorescent (Day White), Fluorescent (Daylight), Fluorescent (Warm White), Incandescent, Shade, Underwater
Burst Rate Up to 5 fps at 24 MP for up to 50 frames
Flash
Flash Modes Auto
Fill-in
Hi-Speed Sync
Off
Rear Sync
Red-eye Reduction
Slow Sync
Wireless
Built-in Flash No
Max Sync Speed 1 / 250 seconds
Flash Compensation -3 EV to +3 EV (in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps)
Dedicated Flash System P-TTL
External Flash Connection Hot Shoe
Performance
Continuous Shooting Up to 5 fps
Self Timer 10 seconds, 2 seconds
Number of Shots: 1-5
Interval Recording No
Internal Memory None
Connectivity 1/8″ Headphone, 1/8″ Microphone, HDMI D (Micro), Micro-USB, Multi Interface Terminal
Wi-Fi Capable Yes
Power
Battery 1x NP-FW50  Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack1020 mAh
AC Power Adapter AC-PW20 (Optional)
Physical
Dimensions (WxHxD) 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.4″ / 126.9 x 95.7 x 59.7 mm
Weight 1.22 lb / 556 g

Submit Your Questions

One of the biggest problems I see with most reviews is that the review doesn’t always answer all of the questions you as a reader have. This is why I am opening up my review to you. I will release a full in-depth review soon on the Sony a7II, but in the meantime please leave your comments, questions, concerns and or tests you would like to see done and I will do my best to include as much as I can into the review itself when it is released. Enjoy!

Holiday Giveaway

On a side note, if you want to win one of four Sony a6000 cameras or many other prizes, check out my 2014 Holiday Giveaway that runs from December 3rd -31st. Click the image below for more info…


COLBYGIVEAWAY4


The Colby Brown 2014 Holiday Giveaway

It is that time of year again and I have a pretty spectacular giveaway this time around. I have reached out to a variety of my partners and sponsors and have put together something special. Each week through the month of December, I will giveaway a mix of products from Sony, Wacom, G-Technology, Formatt Hitech, Nik Software, onOne Software and Artifact Uprising. Essentially each week you could win a Sony a6000 or a Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet or a Premium version of onOne Software’s Perfect Suit 9 and more…

Colby Brown Holiday Giveaway 2014

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So You Want to Become a Travel Photographer?

While we live in a day and age where camera gear is more affordable than ever, photo editing applications are much more accessible and social media platforms have connected each of us with more and more people from around the globe, many photographers still struggle with the idea of working professionally as a photographer. When it comes to travel photography specifically, things are even more complicated. While travel photographers have to learn the craft of photography just as a wedding or stock photographer, they also have to balance the notion of the cost of travel as well. After-all, it can be expensive to fly to India or Mongolia. While alot of people travel and take photos, very few of us get paid to live this lifestyle.

Working in the Canadian Rockies on a film project for Travel Alberta

Working in the Canadian Rockies on a film project for Travel Alberta

So where do you start? What path should you take? When I started my first photography company back in 2006 I too asked these questions. However instead of finding a resource to help guide me along the process, I ended up taking the long way up the hill. It was a few years before I first had my images published. Even longer before I started making any real money as a photographer. This is why I decided to partner with Matador Network and MatadorU and help them build something special. To train, support and prepare the next generation of travel photographers. So what is MatadorU? Lets dive in to find out…

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An In-Depth Review of the Sony FE 16-35 f/4 OSS Wide Angle Lens

While Sony has continued to take the photo industry by storm with their a7 series of full frame mirror-less cameras, many of us have been eagerly awaiting the FE lens mount lineup to grow. At the top of that list was one of the only holes in Sony’s mostly incredibly impressive lens options for their a7 cameras…namely a native wide angle lens option. Like many Sony converts, I wanted a wide angle lens that was not only light weight and portable, but that didn’t sacrifice in build quality, functionality or image quality. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long. On September 15, 2014, the Sony FE 16-35 f/4 OSS (SEL1635Z) wide angle lens was announced. Needless to say I was excited. Having made the switch to Sony from Canon earlier this year, I had been using the Sony 16-35 f/2.8 ZA lens that while impressive, was pretty bulky and heavy.

Sunset with Sony a7r and 16-35 f4 fe lens

Sony a7r with the Sony FE 16-35 f/4 OSS wide angle lens in Hawaii

As it turns out, being sponsored by Sony has its perks as I was given a pre-production model to use throughout my time on The Big Island of Hawaii over the last few weeks as well as here in Colorado before the lens is official released at the middle of November of 2014. On the lens itself resides the number 00011, effectively noting that I got to use the 11th version ever made. While Sony never asked for me to write this review, my goal was to put the lens to the test in a variety of environments and share my experiences. To make things more interesting, I wrote a First Look blog post that gave many of my followers the chance to ask questions that I would try to get to in this in-depth review. I tried to answer every ones questions here in this review, but if I missed something, please let me know in the comments.

Pre-production model of the Sony FE 16-35 f/4 OSS lens

Pre-production model of the Sony FE 16-35 f/4 OSS lens

Now that all that is out of the way, how did the Sony FE 16-35 f/4 do? Lets find out!

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Sony Announces New Professional Services Program to Rival CPS and NPS

Sony-a6000-Weather-Sealed-TestingAs a professional photographer that spends much of his time on the road working in extreme environments, I have found the use of a Professional Services Program to be integral to my various photography businesses over the years. As a Canon shooter previously, there were many times when I had to take advantage of CPS (Canon Professional Services) to help me fix a broken lens, expedite my shipping and turn around a repair in short order (within a few business days) because I was leaving for another project or marketing campaign.

When I became a Sony Ambassador and solely began using Sony camera gear earlier this year, this was one point of contention that I had with my choice. However after multiple conversations with Sony Product Managers, my worry was gone as I knew this day was coming. Today Sony announced their Pro Support services program. Lets talk a bit about what that means…

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First Look: Sony FE 16-35 f/4 ZA OSS Lens

*UPDATE – The full in-depth review of the Sony FE 16-35 f/4 is now live. LINK

Over the last two years Sony Imaging has continued to push the boundaries of the photo industry. Between the dynamic range found in the a7r (In Depth Review) to the incredible low light performance of the a7s, there is a lot of reasons to love what Sony has been up to. However regardless how impressive Sony’s new cameras are, the native lens line for the FE camera mount has had relatively slow growth. While nearly ever one of the FE lenses available today are very impressive, the glaring hole in the lens lineup has been in the wide angle department, until now.

Sony-a7r-with-16-35-f4-fe-lens

Sony a7r w/ Sony FE 16-35 f/4 ZA OSS lens

On September 15th, 2014 Sony finally unveiled the Sony fe 16-35 f/4 ZA OSS lens, which has easily become the most sought after lens for the a7 series cameras (a7,a7r, a7s). Having partnered with Sony over a year ago, they were kind enough to give me early access to the lens while working on a project on The Big Island of Hawaii, where I am currently writing this blog post from. For the next 10 days, I will be pushing this lens to its limits in a variety of situations to see what it is capable of, but I need your help. In the comments below, leave what ever questions you have about the lens and I will make sure to cover as many of them as I can when I release my full in-depth review in the first week of November here on the blog.

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A Photographers Guide to Visiting Yosemite

There are few places in the world that are as beautiful and inspiring as Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. When it comes to iconic locations that define a country such as the United States, it is hard not think of images of Half Dome or Yosemite Falls, both of which have been made famous over the years by photographers such as Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell that each helped define photography for their respective generations.

The iconic Upper Yosemite Falls with early morning light

The iconic Upper Yosemite Falls with early morning light. Shot with a Sony a7r

While many people know that I grew up in the Bay Area, few actually know of my historic ties to Yosemite. My great great grandfather was a man named William E. Colby and he was one of the original members of the Sierra Club with John Muir. Together, they worked hard to help protect Yosemite in the early 1900’s and when Muir passed away in 1914, William became the director of the Sierra Club, staying in the position for nearly 49 years before retiring. I feel this is part of the reason why Yosemite has always felt like home.

In April of this year (2014), I worked on a project for the #DreamBig initiative with Visit California and Yosemite National Park. One of the many things that came out of the project was the video that you see below. Enjoy!


Between my love of the park itself and my family’s history Yosemite, I have a clear understanding of why so many photographers have it listed as a “bucket list” location. Because of this, I decided to put together this comprehensive guide to visiting Yosemite, from a photographers perspective. I cover a lot of topics; from information on which airports to fly into, to my favorite spots to photograph, to my favorite times of year to visit. There are plenty of amazing things to see in Yosemite National Park (which is open year round).

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An In-Depth Review of the Sony a7r

There is no doubt that Sony has the photo industry talking lately. While you can certainly purchase a very capable Canon, Nikon or Fuji camera, it is Sony that seems to be the most innovative these days, both in sensor and lens technology. So when Sony announced the a7 & a7r last year, I (like my of my colleagues) was intrigued, one could even say excited, with the notion of an affordable light weight, full frame mirror-less camera. Especially one that housed some of the same sensor technology that went into the popular Nikon D800e. But with this being 1st generation technology from Sony, was it truly going to live up to its hype? Is the Sony a7r truly a game changing camera? I had to find out.

A7r-River-Icelanda
After making a few phone calls and talking to the right people at Sony, they agreed to send me an a7r (and a handful of lenses) to put to the test. As a landscape, travel and humanitarian photographer, I am often working in fairly extreme environments and the projects I had lined up over the last half year certainly didn’t disappoint in that regard. From Iceland to the Canadian Rockies to Hawaii and even Australia, I pushed this camera to its limits…and then some. I even managed to break two ribs while bringing it with me while ice climbing in Iceland this past winter. Have you ever wanted to know just how cold a camera can get and still perform? What about test your camera to see if it is actually weather sealed by using it in a rain storm? Humidity? Snow? Heat? Dust? Done…Done and Done! So how did she hold up overall? Will the a7r become a permanent pillar of my gear setup? Lets find out!

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Adobe Adds Multiple New Features to Photoshop CC (June 2014)

Photoshop CC Start Up LogoWhen Adobe first moved to the subscription model, many photographers were up in arms about the new pricing structure. Among the complaints was the mindset that Adobe was just going to take our money and not provide any real benefits to the end user, even if this was against everything Adobe was saying. Part of the reason for the change from a product you could purchase outright in a store or a pure digital subscription model was the idea that the consistent forms of revenue for Adobe would free up its resources to be able to provide more timely updates to its software programs as well as add new features in a much faster capacity then the standard 1 to 2 year wait periods between significant software versions (such as CS4 to CS5 for example). Today it looks like Adobe is following through on that promise as they have announced a slew of new updates to Photoshop CC (also know as the Creative Cloud).

Starting today, the Photoshop Photography Program that allows you to pay only $10/month (with a one year contract) for Photoshop CC, Lightroom 5, Lightroom Mobile, access to Creative Cloud Learn, and ongoing updates and upgrades has been made permanent. You also won’t need a previous license, it’s available for everyone!

Below you can find a number of YouTube videos that showcase many of the new features and show you what they can do. If you have new features that you would like to see in Photoshop in the future, leave them in the comments below. Enjoy!

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Spring 2014 Photography Contest/Giveaway

Toshiba Kirabook with one of my Gecko images from Hawaii

Spring is here and it is a time for rebirth and new beginnings. As a photographer this can have several important meanings from a simple shift in the seasons to a change in our mindset of what is to come for us in the coming year. To me it stands for the rebirth of mother nature. Between the wild flowers blooming to the increased flow of waterfalls around the world to specific animals awaking from hibernation…it is one of my favorite times of the year.

This is why I am incredibly excited to announce my 2014 Spring Photography Contest. In an on going process to leverage the connections I have with the various companies I work with to benefit you, I have partnered with Toshiba, X-Rite and Formatt Hitech to give away over $2000 worth of prizes for my next contest/giveaway hosted here at Colby Brown Photography.

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