Sony A7RII and Sony A7S ISO Shootout
I have not typically in the past provided “In-Depth” reviews of camera systems although, I have been very intrigued by the Sony line of cameras and wanted to see what all the “Hype” is all about. The camera market is changing rapidly which makes it difficult to make an informed decision about what to purchase. As I currently own Nikon, Phase One and Hasselblad systems, I have been searching for a smaller form system for travel vacations and or long hikes. Weight and bulk are required for the ultimate image quality today but, that will no longer be an issue in the upcoming years, hopefully. I welcome your comments as this is the first review I have done of this kind but, keep it professional please.
(Scroll Down for Sony A7RII Results)
Overview – A7S
The Sony A7S was released on or about July 2014. It was/is marketed as the ISO beast and the best ISO performer of any camera on the market today. The ISO range is from 50 to 409,600 but, is the entire ISO range usable? The A7S uses a full frame 12.2 megapixel sensor and the camera is powered by a BIONZ X image processor. The Camera will also record 4K video but requires the Atomos Shogun External recorder to do so at the cost of around $1,995.00. I have one and will hopefully be able to review that in the future. You should know that buying the Atomos shogun is not your only cost to begin recording 4K video. You will also need an HDMI cable, solid state drives such as the SanDisk 480GB Extreme Pro Solid State Drives at a cost of $219.99 each. You will also need external power as the battery life is extremely short so add the XT Power MP-10000 at $ 50.00 each. In addition you will need the Atomos Hood if shooting outdoors.
Ergonomics – A7S
I would consider the ergonomics to be a solid 7 out of 10. There are improvements made in the A7RII which makes it ergonomically better. My only complaint as to both cameras is that the lens release button is on the right side of the lens instead of the left as most cameras. This is the only irritant but, if your left handed maybe you would like it better.
Test Environment- A7S
In order to run my tests I utilized a tripod and created a lighting environment of 4700K to 5000K and shot daylight white balance. I did create a color profile with the X-Rite Color Checker profiler and adjusted all images to that profile in Adobe Camera RAW. No other adjustments were made other that converting to JPEG in order to post to this article. I shot all images with the Sony 90mm f/2.8 macro lens and utilized aperture priority at f/8.0 at ISO from 50 to 409,600. Shutter speed was adjusted automatically per aperture priority. It should be noted that the Sony 90mm Macro f/2.8 lens is the second highest rated Sony lens behind the Sony Zeiss 55mm 1.8, per DXO Mark.
ISO Tipping Point – A7S
For me as a still image landscape photographer, the beginning of the ISO tipping point is 25,600. This is still very high but, I doubt I would proceed above that unless image quality is not paramount. Any ISO at or above 102,400 is definitely unusable for any suitable image quality although, it could be used for photography where image quality is not important but, low light capture is required. Of course these findings are of my opinion. Your results could vary. Please see all images below to draw your own conclusion. Or, perform your own test. If you would like to receive the original Sony RAW files email me at email@example.com and I will send you a dropbox link for the files.
Sony A7S Critical ISO Tipping point shots below: (Click on Image for 100% Crop View)
Sony A7S ISO Test Shots – Entire ISO Range (Click on Image, These are JPEGS 1000×668 created from original Sony .arw Raw Files)
(Scroll Up for Sony A7S Results)
Overview – A7RII
This camera is simply amazing both for the performance and the value. At 22 oz (625g) versus a Nikon D810 at 43 oz (965g) it’s alot of power in a small package! This camera boasts 42.40 Megapixels on a full frame CMOS sensor (35mm, 35.9mm x 24mm). This os Sony’s high resolution mirrorless flagship camera as of August 2015. This camera is intended to “Close the Gap” of the tradeoff of resolution and High ISO performance. The low pass filter has been removed and High ISO has been gained by back lighting the sensor and the powerful BIONZ X processor. Camera throughput has been increased 3.5 times therefore keep shooting shot after shot
Ergonomics – A7RII
As with the Sony A7S I would consider the ergonomics to be excellent! I would give this camera a 9 out of 10 as almost everything is right at your fingertips. There are only two items that bother me from an ergonomic standpoint, 1) The lens locking button is again on the right side of the lens as the A7S. I really wish it was on the left like most cameras. 2) The locking button on the mode selector is not a favorite addition. I have never needed a lock on the mode selector on any camera I have owned. I suppose it might be good for people who accidentally turn the wrong dial while shooting but, the placement of the aperture and shutter speed dials is excellent and would not be confusing. In addition the mode selector is more towards the center of the top of the camera away from your fingers so I doubt it would ever be mis-interpreted by fingers as another selector. In other words Sony, take the lock button off, just make it a little more difficult to turn than other selector dials. Sony changed the top of the camera back where the Menu button and the C3/LCD Zoom buttons are located to an angle versus vertical. I love this change! It greatly improves the ergonomics of the camera. The camera grip is also bigger which makes it easier to hand hold, even better if you add the Sony battery grip. I also greatly appreciate the additional custom button “C4″ on the back, that’s 4 Custom Buttons!! Awesome!
Test Environment- A7RII
As with the Sony A7S above, I utilized a tripod and created a lighting environment of 4700K to 5000K and shot daylight white balance. I did create a color profile with the X-Rite Color Checker profiler and adjusted all images to that profile in Adobe Camera RAW. No other adjustments were made other that converting to JPEG in order to post to this article. I shot all images with the Sony 90mm f/2.8 macro lens and utilized aperture priority at f/8.0 at ISO from 50 to 102,400. Shutter speed was adjusted automatically per aperture priority. It should be noted that the Sony 90mm Macro f/2.8 lens is the second highest rated Sony lens behind the Sony Zeiss 55mm 1.8, per DXO Mark.
ISO Tipping Point – A7RII
Based on my tests (See 100% Crops below) I believe the tipping point on the Sony A7RII begins at ISO 6,400 but, still usable at ISO 6,400. At ISO 8,000 you are entering into the tipping point and at ISO 25,600 the image is beginning to be unusable in my opinion without significant noise reduction. With most noise reduction software you lose detail so I am not a big fan of applying much noise reduction. But let’s face it, how often do you shoot above ISO 25,600? If you would like to receive the original Sony RAW files email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you a dropbox link for the files.
Sony A7RII Critical ISO Tipping point shots below: (Click on Image for 100% Crop View)
Sony A7RII ISO Test Shots – Entire ISO Range (Click on Image, These are JPEGS 1000×668 created from original Sony .arw Raw Files)
In addition to ISO test I found both cameras excellent in every way. But, specifically the auto focus and internal 5 axis stabilization on the A7RII to be extremely good. I shot the X-Rite Color Checker card and created a color calibration profile for both cameras with the DNG X-Rite color checker color profile creator. I used that profile for both Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom and it made a huge difference. I highly recommend that you do the same to achieve optimum color results as it is worth your effort. Get it here: http://xritephoto.com/ph_product_overview.aspx?ID=1257&Action=Support&SoftwareID=986
I think what is to be focused on here is how well both the cameras perform at ISO’s below their tipping point. Most of us rarely go above ISO 6,400 so if we can achieve images below that with little or no noise we have gained so much than other camera systems marketed today. Knowing that I can shoot ISO’s comfortably from 50 to 6,400 (or ISO 25,600 on Sony A7S) without hesitation is so awesome. I believe Sony is on the right track by continuing to innovate, design/redesign and continue to achieve outstanding camera technology. Will I sell my Nikon D810, D800E, D4, Phase One IQ180 or my Hasselblad H4D-40? Probably not but, it is nice to have a smaller footprint light weight system in addition to those systems that achieves incredible results.
Copyright Robert Shreve Photography
email me at: email@example.com
It is rumored that Sony will be releasing a 50mp version of the A7R between now and June 2015. This is very exciting news for mirrorless camera owners as a 50mp small form factor camera will be incredible for Landscape and other photography genre’s. Larger DSLR cameras are alot to carry on long hikes and travel photography. I dove into Leica a year ago but was distressed with not having auto focus. Although, when I began shooting at 17 years old I didn’t have auto focus then either. But, a 50mp camera with auto focus and that can use Leica manual focus glass, with adapter, will be incredible. I HOPE that the camera and the sensor will live up to expectations. It will be difficult to beat my Hasselblad H4D-40 or my Phase One IQ-180 but, I will be most anxious to give it a try!
Read more HERE.
If you haven’t seen this bag you should certainly check it out. It is absolutely gorgeous and it will definitely be one of my next purchases. Sometimes I want a more fashionable bag so my significant other won’t look at me as such a camera geek and embarrass her with my backpack walking into a nice place to eat. See more it here!
What am I talking About?
I have been and always will be amazed at the accuracy of the Continuous Auto-Focus System built into many of the Nikon Camera Systems. However, there are settings in your camera that can greatly improve your results. Most photographers know the difference between “Single Point Focus” and “Continuous Focus”. If you are shooting stationary subjects such a portraits using the Single Point System is very adequate. But, If you are shooting moving targets such as sports, wildlife and such you need to switch your camera over to the Continuous Focus System. The Continuous Focus System allows the camera to track a moving subject and continually re-focus as the target moves.
If you already know about settings for continuous Auto Focus please skip to the bottom to the crux of what I have to say….
What are the Settings?:
To turn on Continuous Focus on a Late Model Nikon System such as the D4 and D800 /e you need to rotate the focus mode selector to “AF” then press in the AF Mode Button while looking through the view finder rotate the rear Main Command dial and select AF-C for continuous focus. Next you need to rotate the front Sub Command Dial to select the Auto Focus Area Mode. There are six options as follows:
Single Point – Camera tracks a single point and focus will be determined by that one point. This is only recommended for subjects that are moving very slow and not erratic.
9 Point Dynamic Area – Choose when subjects are moving predictably.
21 Point Dynamic Area – Choose when subjects are moving unpredictably.
51 Point Dynamic Area – Use when subjects are moving very erratically and moving in and out of frame.
3D Tracking – Utilize when subjects are moving erratically from side to side such as tennis players and cyclist. Focus will track the subject as it moves.
Auto-Area AF – This setting focuses on the closest moving subject in the frame. Focus will be determined by the nearest object.
Do NOT underestimate this setting. For example, if you are shooting a bird in flight, the auto focus system, if using 9 point up to 51 point or 3D Tracking, will select the point of the subject with the greatest contrast, So let’s say you initially focused on the eye of the bird, that does not mean it will not change to the wingtip if the contrast is greater if the wingtip is within the “points” in the viewfinder. Sometimes, limiting your focus point to 9 point or single point can give you greater focus accuracy with a moving target or even a stationary target. CONTRAST is what the auto focus system uses to locate a focus point. For moving subjects I typically use 9 point and continuous auto focus.
You should also consider your Aperture setting as “Depth of Field” will also influence what is in focus. If you want the bird in focus from wing tip to wing tip, you need to consider the focus plane of how depth of filed will impact whats in focus. If the bird is coming at you head on, perpendicular to your lens then depth of field is suitable at a more open aperture, but if the bird is sideways you will need greater depth of filed to get the bird in focus from wing tip to wing tip. It might take as much as f/16 which in turn may require you to use a higher ISO. Greater depth of field also increases your “keepers” as, if the auto focus system selects a different are of contrast, your image may still be sharp due to adequate depth of field. All of this is subjective to your goal as an artist.
Once you select which AF-Area Mode you intend to use, make your selection. To activate auto focus while shooting just press the shutter button halfway down or press the AF-On button depending on your setting for same.(See AF Activation in the Custom Settings Menu)
Focus Tracking while Locked on a Subject:
This setting is extremely important when shooting a subject or subjects where objects may come in-between you and you subject for short burst of time that could interrupt the AF system. You can change the setting to tell the AF system to ignore objects passing through the frame or short distance changes. See [a3:Focus Tracking with Lock-On] to determine which setting is optimal. For me, unless I am shooting sports, I turn this off as the longer time you set, the greater a delay in re-focusing on a moving target. To practice these settings to see what they do, just try each setting and with continuous focus on aim your camera at some grass on ground in front of you and then slowly move your camera out across the grass to focus at greater distances. You will notice the shorter the setting, the faster refocusing occurs.
What is it that is so Important?!!! The Crux!
AF-C Priority Selection (Under Custom Settings aka the Pencil in the Nikon Menu System)
In the beginning I was greatly disappointed by the number of “keepers” that I obtained. I found the key to increasing that ratio in my Nikon settings! This may be one of the most important settings for Continuous Auto Focus. AF-C Priority Selection allows the photographer to choose when the camera actually relates focus to the instance of capture or shutter release. There are 4 options as follows:
Release – Photos are taken whenever the shutter release button is pressed. So with this option the shutter will trigger regardless if the subject is in focus. With “Predictive Focus Tracking”, this option will achieve the most number of keepers.
Focus+Release – Under this option photos can be taken if not in focus. Priority to focus is given to the first image in each series but after that the priority is given to the frame rate, not focus. In other words priority to the high or low speed continuous shoot speed.
Release+Focus – Again, photos can be taken even if not in focus but in continuous mode the frame rate will actually slow down in order to give improved focus if the subject is in low or dark contrast. (Remember that the focus system uses contrast in the focus area to focus)
Focus – Photos can only be taken when the focus indicator is displayed.
I can tell you that I can increase the number of “keepers” when in Release mode although, I sometimes achieve fair results in Release+Focus mode. Remember, that in AF continuous mode the camera never stops focusing until the shutter is released. Predictive focus tracking will predict the next focus point. You should play with these settings to optimize your keepers. Low contrast subjects such as a solid color subject will be very difficult to capture in focus. Try and target a part of the subject that has contrast and use a higher aperture setting to increase your depth of field. If you are shooting wide open or close to wide open you will need to find some contrast in the in focus critical area. Another rule you can apply is to slow down the frame rate below 10fps or less.
Another option that I have found to be even more accurate is to select “Release” or “Release+Focus” mode for your AF-C Priority Selection and using a two finger technique. When shooting you will need to use the “AF ON” button on the back of the camera to focus and use the shutter release button to release the shutter. Make sure your AF ON button(s) is set in the menu system under “controls” or “Auto focus” to “Focus”. So, once again, its a two finger operation. Use your thumb and press “AF ON” button and your index finger to press the shutter button. Keep the AF ON button pressed the entire time while you are shooting to keep your subject in focus while simultaneously releasing the shutter. I highly recommend this setup.
Aperture is critical as these systems are NOT perfect so wide open Aperture shots may be more difficult especially if you are close to your subject. The further away will give you more depth of field or alternatively close down your aperture to give you more depth of field.
All of these settings work together to optimize your AF system capture and are extremely important so go into your cameras menu system and review your settings before your next action shots. You should end up with better images and more keepers! Most cameras allow you to create a “Profile” with certain settings that allow you to change over quickly without having to go through the menu system. So, create a profile and you will always have these settings.
Most DSLR digital cameras have similar options within their menu system. If you use another brand such as Canon or Pentex just go to the Manual and research the continuous auto focus settings.
Copyright Robert Shreve Photography
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